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.”