PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other, plain and simple.
That’s all that really needs to be said. No statistical analysis or history lesson is necessary. It’s known throughout the commonwealth and the National Hockey League.
Scrums and fights are a regular sight when these two teams get together, given the physical nature of the rivalry. In turn, the team that can best control its emotions and play with a sense of responsibility might have the best chance at winning this first round series, which begins at 7:30 p.m. tonight for Game 1 at CONSOL Energy Center.
At least, that’s what some of the Penguins believe.
“I think it’s easier in the playoffs because there is a heightened focus on the ultimate goal,” Penguins winger Matt Cooke said when asked how difficult it is to step away from scrums and antagonizing. “During the season it’s one (game) of 82 and it gets a lot easier to turn around and whack a guy or retaliate. If they score on that penalty, it’s during the regular season and maybe it doesn’t have the volume or the importance that it would in the playoffs.”
Philadelphia has a knack for getting under the Penguins’ skin and, as captain Sidney Crosby said last week, bring out the worst in them. It might be part of the reason Pittsburgh has won just four of 12 games against the Flyers over the last two seasons — just one win in six games at home in that span.
With that, the Penguins have been paying attention to detail in practice this week, something head coach Dan Bylsma says is normal throughout the year. The Pens focused on special teams Tuesday, which ironically fits right into the whole theme of controlling emotions and playing disciplined.
If Pittsburgh can stay out of the penalty box and force Philadelphia into penalties it will have a much better shot at advancing to the second round.
“(Monday) was after a day off, so we had more pace to the practice. (Tuesday) was a little bit slower, a special teams day significantly for power play, penalty kill, 5-on-3, 4-on-3,” Bylsma said. “It’s not something you always get a chance to work on extensively, but you might get just one of those situations in a game here in this series and it’s going to be a big game, a big situation.
“Paying attention to that detail again today with a 5-on-6 and that situation at the end of games. It was a little bit more attention detail and not as much pace to our game. We touched on some areas where we think are going to be critical, are critical to our game, and the special teams factor, which is always a big thing.”
Also important is matching the Flyers physicality and intensity. Despite losing Mike Richards and Jeff Carter over the offseason and defenseman Chris Pronger to a concussion — a large part of the team’s identity in recent years — Philadelphia still likes to play physical.
Crosby says that hasn’t changed.
“They play a similar style,” he said. “They have a lot of depth. I don’t see a lot of difference in terms of their style of play. They’re actually pretty similar.”
And so is the approach: stay disciplined.
“The details for everyone are important,” Crosby said. “Those are the things everyone is going to be working on at this time of year.”