If you were a WWE fan growing up, you probably remember the attention that cage matches drew, especially if a championship title belt was on the line. If you were a fan of those matches, then I’m sure you could classify the Flyers-Penguins first-round matchup as being the pay-per-view Hell in a Cell match.
After the final battle of the regular season went to the Penguins, this Eastern Conference quarterfinal series should be one for the ages. While this matchup does not feature the conference’s No. 1 seed (the Rangers) or last year’s championship team (the Bruins), what it does feature is a good old-fashioned rivalry.
It’s no secret that these two teams despise each other – and I mean despise each other. Since the additions of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh has regularly been one of the best teams in the league. With center Claude Giroux near the century mark in points, Philadelphia has used a surplus of young talent to climb the Eastern Conference standings, not even a year after completely blowing up the team. It also helps that Russian netminder Ilya Bryzgalov has found his calling in the crease and is no longer “lost in the woods.”
In a street fight of a game between the two on Sunday, April 1, Joe Vitale of the Penguins decked Flyers forward Danny Briere in the game’s final minutes. That hit led to multiple fights and Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette screaming at the Pittsburgh coaching staff.
The regular season finale just six days later lacked that hatred but the physicality was still there. Pittsburgh took away two irrelevant points but the crowd in the Steel City was animated – they knew they were getting a playoff preview.
The last time these two teams played in the postseason was back in 2009, coincidentally the same postseason that saw Pittsburgh hoist the Stanley Cup. Since then, the Penguins have kept most of their team in tact but Philadelphia has a new squad, a much younger one. They don’t have a ton of playoff experience but a series against the Penguins will force the likes of Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier to give it their all.
Pittsburgh picked up the victory in the regular season finale but all that matters now is that these two teams will be back in Pittsburgh this week for the start of a brutal series. Let’s just hope that the odds are in the Flyers’ favor.