Flyers-Penguins, a rivalry renewed with so much on the line

Flyers-Penguins, a rivalry renewed with so much on the line

Looking to thaw out from the frigid nor’easter?

It shouldn’t take long for things to heat up inside the Wells Fargo Center.

“It’s going to be highly intense," Jakub Voracek said, "and I'm very excited about that."

NBC calls it “Wednesday Night Rivalry” and the emotion and fervor between the Flyers and Penguins will be amped up another level.

“It’s a real important two points,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “You can put any tag you want on it. I don’t think we need any measuring sticks. I don’t think we need any of that. We’re playing against a good hockey team that we’re right next to in the standings, and you add that all up, there’s an awful lot on the line.”

The Flyers haven’t played a meaningful regular-season game of this magnitude against the Penguins since April 9, 2016. With chairman and founder Ed Snider watching from his California home, the Flyers dispatched the Pens, 3-1, to earn a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Snider died two days later following his two-year battle with bladder cancer.

These are the type of games Snider lived for.

“It’s a big game for us,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “Those divisional games — we have to make sure we play our best hockey. Right now, they’re one of the hottest teams in the league. We know that. They’re coming in with a lot of confidence. For us, it’s to build that intensity and just play our game.” 

“In years where we’re in different situations, I feel like both teams are still at their best,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby said. “There’s always something extra in those games. With what’s on the line tonight, it’s expected that it will pick up a little bit more.”

When these two teams last squared off in Philadelphia on Jan. 2, the Flyers were the bottom-feeders in the Metropolitan Division. With the game tied, 1-1, in the second period, the Pens promptly put the game out of reach with three goals in a two-minute-and-17-second span. It’s a game that bothered Hakstol more than their 5-4 collapse Nov. 27 in Pittsburgh.

“I’ll be blunt and honest, the game here in January, we were too easy to play against,” Hakstol said. “We weren’t in attack mode, so I think that’s one of the things that our team has continued to grow and develop. We’ve got a little more of that attack mentality.”

Since their January matchup, they’ve been two of the NHL elites. The Penguins have ripped off an 18-7-1 record while the Flyers have been slightly better at 18-6-3. There’s also a good likelihood tonight’s game could be a first-round playoff preview.

“It’s going to be a very tight game,” Wayne Simmonds, who returns after missing seven games, said. “It’s going to be a pretty spirited game. It always is when we play Pittsburgh.”

One player new to the Keystone clash is goalie Petr Mrazek, who the Flyers acquired 16 days ago from Detroit. Mrazek’s 4.02 GAA in six starts against the Penguins is the worst of any opponent he’s faced in his career. He’s also looking to improve from a weekend series in Florida where he allowed 10 goals in two games to the Panthers and Lightning.

“We looked over the video and I found some positive things I want to keep doing, and bad things I want to learn from,” Mrazek said. “I don’t look back. I have to look forward, and I’m looking forward to tonight.”

Why have Penguins dominated Flyers recently?

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Why have Penguins dominated Flyers recently?

VOORHEES, N.J. — The keys to the Keystone State Rivalry are now in the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have been in the driver’s seat recently in their feud with the Flyers.

The Penguins are on the verge of a season sweep for the first time since taking all eight meetings during the Flyers' disastrous 2006-07 season.

It’s a complete turnaround from the Flyers' eight-game winning streak from November 2013 to April 2015. PPG Paints Arena, formerly known as Consol Energy Center, could also be commonly referred to as Wells Fargo Center West.

However, in the Dave Hakstol era, which has also coincided with the Mike Sullivan era in Pittsburgh, the ice has been tilted toward Lake Erie. The Flyers are just 3-7-1 against the Penguins over the past three years.

Over time, that vitriolic and acrimonious attitude seems to be missing from a once-bitter feud and the Flyers seemed to thrive off that animosity.

“There’s not as many fights as we used to and not as many hits,” captain Claude Giroux said. “If you don’t take care of the puck and you don’t play smart out there, it’s going to cost your team.”

Since the third period of their first game in November, there have been costly mistakes and very little pushback from the Flyers. They’ve been outscored 14-4 in their last seven periods and a brief overtime against the Penguins.

“It’s a matter of us going out and being ourselves for a full 60 minutes,” Hakstol said. “We haven’t done that against Pittsburgh and you’ve got to credit them for that. They can push teams off balance.”

And clearly, the Penguins have presented a matchup problem for the Flyers, regardless of which team has owned last change. Sidney Crosby has thrived this season with a plus-6 rating against the Flyers.

With Sean Couturier serving as Evgeni Malkin’s shadow dating back to his rookie season in 2011-12, Giroux had been tasked with matching up with Crosby’s line. Now with Couturier and Giroux paired together, the task of containing Crosby has shifted elsewhere, whether it’s been Valtteri Filppula, Scott Laughton or Nolan Patrick.

The Flyers' 19-year-old rookie center has quickly discovered what works and what doesn’t against arguably the NHL’s best all-around player.

“You have to be a little more defensive-minded when (Crosby) is out there, and even Malkin too,” Patrick said. “Crosby’s not really a guy you can go after and knock the puck off. You just got to try and contain them and have a good stick on him.”

“I don’t think we’ve given them our best effort so far this year,” defenseman Andrew MacDonald said. “We were a little timid last time. We were trying to feel out the game and see what kind of game it was going to be, rather than dictate the play.”

The Flyers haven’t exhibited their best effort against any team recently, and no need to prove a point against the Penguins this late in the season.

The Flyers simply need points and the Penguins just happen to be the next team on the schedule.

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

AP Images

Devils' Hall wastes no time in overtime

PITTSBURGH -- Taylor Hall beat Matt Murray on a breakaway 27 seconds into overtime to lift the New Jersey Devils to a 4-3 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.

Hall was all alone when Nico Hischier found him with a long lead pass. Hall then slipped the puck between Murray's legs for his 33rd goal of the season as New Jersey picked up two vital points in the race for one of the two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference.

Hall added two assists for New Jersey. Hischier finished with a goal and an assist, and Blake Coleman and Will Butcher also scored for the Devils. Keith Kincaid made 40 stops for the Devils, who finished a season-high six-game road trip 4-2.

Sidney Crosby scored his 25th of the season for Pittsburgh. Brian Dumolin and Phil Kessel scored in the third period as the Penguins erased a two-goal deficit. Murray finished with 30 saves as the Penguins lost for just the second time in their last 17 home games.

New Jersey's drive to end a six-year playoff drought has stalled since the All-Star break. A lopsided loss in San Jose dropped the Devils to just 13-12 since Jan. 30 and skated onto the ice at PPG Paints Arena with a tenuous grasp on the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference (see full recap).

Bruins win on Pastrnak’s last-second goal
DALLAS -- David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card (see full recap).

Berglund, Blues push win streak to 4
ST. LOUIS -- Patrik Berglund scored twice and the surging St. Louis Blues beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Friday night for their fourth consecutive victory.

Vladimir Tarasenko and Dmitrij Jaskin also scored for St. Louis. Jake Allen made 19 saves in his eighth straight start as the Blues won for the sixth time in seven games.

Sam Gagner scored for Vancouver, which has lost eight of nine. Anders Nilsson stopped 21 shots.

The Blues swept the season series and have won their last five games against the Canucks.

Tarasenko extended the lead to 3-1 just 14 seconds into the third period, slipping Jaden Schwartz's pass between Nilsson's legs. Tarasenko missed the previous two games with an upper-body injury.

Jaskin's sixth goal of the season with 2:29 left sealed it for St. Louis (see full recap).