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PITTSBURGH – The Philadelphia Flyers represent the opposing side of Pittsburgh’s greatest sports rivalry. The matchup of two teams from Pennsylvania’s two largest cities always brings to the surface a genuine dislike, even disdain, between two loyal fan bases.
The battles between the Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins bring a myriad of emotions: Fierce competition, respect and even hate. The feelings between the two sides are deep-seated and carry the scars of a half century.
The rivalry between the Penguins and Flyers was born in the “Next Six” expansion of 1967. The Pens and Flyers faced off in October in that first season, with the Flyers notching a 1-0 shutout at the Philadelphia Spectrum.
All told, the teams have played 287 times in the regular season, with 41 more games in the playoffs.
While the Flyers have dominated the series, the Penguins have won more than twice as many NHL championships — five Stanley Cups to two.
The two teams have met in the playoffs four times since 2008, with the Penguins winning three of those four series. Along the way, there have been many great games, a long list of memorable moments and one streak of futility that the Pens and their fans would rather forget.
For a 15-year span between 1974 and 1989, the Penguins failed to win at the Spectrum. The winless streak in Philadelphia lasted 42 games (0-39-3). Channel 11’s Alby Oxenreiter was at the Spectrum when it finally came to an end on Feb. 3, 1989.
Oxenreiter says it was fitting that the two teams met in the postseason that year. In Game 5 of a playoff series against the Flyers — 10 weeks after the Pens snapped the winless streak — Mario Lemieux scored 5 goals and finished with 8 points in a 10-7 Penguins win.
For the Flyers, it was a frustrating game to say the least. At one point, goaltender Ron Hextall left his net and chased Penguins’ winger Robby Brown around the ice.
This year’s game will be at 8:00 p.m. and can be seen on WPXI. Our live coverage from Philadelphia will begin at 7 p.m. Saturday.
But the ’89 Flyers eventually got the best of the Penguins, winning the series by taking Game 7 in Pittsburgh. Oxenreiter witnessed that game as well, but said it was the beginning of big things for hockey in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins won the Stanley Cup in 1991, and a year later, Philadelphia’s Rich Tocchet, who Pittsburgh fans loved to hate, was acquired by the Penguins in a trade that sent Mark Recchi to the Flyers.
Tocchet became an integral piece of the Penguins’ 1992 Stanley Cup win.
In 1993, for a few moments on one night, the venom and hate of the Pens-Flyers rivalry subsided when Philadelphia fans showered love on Mario Lemieux in a show of respect.
On March 2, only hours after completing his 22nd and final radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, Lemieux flew to Philadelphia in time for the game and scored a goal. Flyers fans gave Lemieux a rousing and warm ovation.
In the 2000 Eastern Conference semifinals, the Flyers beat the Pens in six games. The series included a five-overtime win by the Flyers in Game 4.
In 2005, Sidney Crosby’s first game in Philadelphia included a punch in the mouth from Derian Hatcher, which knocked out three of Crosby’s teeth. Crosby still scored the game winner in overtime.
In the 2009 first-round playoff series between the two teams, the Penguins were ignited by Max Talbot.
The Pens were losing 3-0 in Game 6, when Talbot instigated a fight with Daniel Carcillo. On his way to the penalty box, Talbot put his index finger over his lips and quieted the Philly faithful with a defiant “shhh.”
The Penguins came back to win the game, 5-3, and the series in six games.
Tyler Kennedy was part of that 2009 Stanley Cup champion, and he remembers the satisfaction after eliminating the Flyers. “We were standing outside the bus, and the fans were behind the fence, and they were trying to chirp us,” he said. “We were laughing because we just kicked their team out of the playoffs. They were so mad.”
In early April 2012, the head coaches got caught up in the rivalry, with Peter Laviolette yelling to the other bench at his counterpart, Dan Bylsma. Later that month, the Flyers ended the season for the Penguins, eliminating them in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Stadium Series showdown on Saturday will mark the 329th game (regular season and playoffs) between the Penguins and Flyers. It has been 50 years of fiery fandom, fights and fantastic hockey between the Penguins and the Flyers.
It’s a rivalry centered on viciousness, with a cast of villainous characters, heroes and underdogs. It’s a series that brings out the best and worst of two teams, with confidence that the best is yet to come.
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