There is no rivalry in the NHL like that of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers. The two Pennsylvania teams will face off outdoors for the first time ever on Saturday at 8:00 on NBC. The rivals have only played one other time this year (the Penguins won 5-4), and the stakes have never been higher than they will be on Saturday in the Stadium Series.
Let’s take a look back at the greatest moments of the storied Flyers-Penguins rivalry.
The Flyers-Penguins rivalry goes back half a century. The two teams were both a part of the NHL’s Original Expansion in 1967, and they very quickly developed a dislike for each other. In fact, from 1974-1989, the Penguins went 42 consecutive games at the Spectrum without winning a game, going 0-39-3 in that time.
Things would soon turn for the Penguins though, when they got a hold of generational talent Mario Lemieux. “Super Mario” terrorized the Flyers during his prime, often dueling with Eric Lindros. But when Mario Lemiuex played his presumptive final game (he eventually returned to the sport), even the bitter Flyers fans gave Lemieux a standing ovation, showing respect even for their most hated rival.
But after Lemieux retired and Eric Lindros moved on, the rivalry cooled off once again, at least until the 2000 Eastern Conference Semifinals. The back-and-forth series is best known for Keith Primeau’s Game 4 winning goal, which came in the fifth overtime period. The test of wills proved that the Flyers could beat the Pens, and sure enough, they pulled out the series in 6 games.
With the Penguins looking like they could be put up for sale following a particularly poor stretch of hockey from 2000-2005, the arrival of another teenaged prodigy saved the Penguins franchise and brought the Flyers-Penguins rivalry to new heights. Sidney Crosby was the first overall pick in the 2005 Draft, and his second game in Philadelphia was quite memorable for him.
After getting high-sticked by gruff Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher, Crosby collapsed on the ice like he had been shot and didn’t get up. Once he did, Crosby appealed to the referees for a penalty against Hatcher, all with blood dripping from his mouth. Hatcher wasn’t penalized, and the Philly faithful loved it, at least until Crosby scored the overtime winner. Since then, Crosby has been Public Enemy Number One in South Philadelphia.
The two teams would meet in the playoffs in 2008 and 2009, with the Penguins winning both series. Pittsburgh would go on to win the Stanley Cup in 2009, which was especially painful for Flyers fans when they were just two wins away from eliminating their cross-state foes in the first round.
The Flyers would extract sweet revenge in 2010 when they spoiled the Penguins’ Stanley Cup celebration at their new stadium with a 2-1 win. The Flyers wouldn’t lose at the Consol Energy Center until their sixth game there, two years later.
The rivalry dipped again when Sidney Crosby missed parts of two seasons with chronic concussions. But when Crosby returned, he went right back to scoring against the Flyers and causing trouble on the ice. It all came to a head just before the 2012 Playoffs, when the Flyers and Penguins would face off in Round 1. The 2012 Flyers featured notable ex-Penguins Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot on their team, adding in even more bad blood to an already-chippy series.
The two teams knew they would face off in the postseason when they battled in Pittsburgh on April 1, 2012. In a 6-4 Flyers win, the Penguins took a late run at Flyers star Danny Briere, which led to a line brawl. Flyers Head Coach Peter Laviolette famously stood on top of the boards and taunted the Penguins’ coaching staff before being restrained. The ensuing playoff series though, was somehow even crazier.
In a throwback to 1980s hockey, the two teams went on a scoring and fighting frenzy. The underdog Flyers dominated the series’ first two games, and did more of the same in Game 3 in Philadelphia before the Penguins cracked. Sidney Crosby played the role of instigator, sparking at least 3 line brawls and even scrapping with Flyers star Claude Giroux mano a mano. The Flyers won the game 8-4, and had all the momentum. This prompted Crosby to famously claim that he “didn’t like” anyone on the Flyers.
The Penguins roared back in Games 4 and 5, but the Flyers had had enough for Game 6. Claude Giroux went out and took Crosby to task with a crushing hit in the opening seconds, before sniping an early goal. The Flyers never relented, and took the game and the series, shocking the hockey world.
Following that series, it seemed as if the Penguins could never beat the Flyers. Philadelphia won 8 straight games against Pittsburgh from 2013-2015, 5 of them on the road. The Flyers’ strategy of irritating the Penguins enough to throw them off their game worked time and time again, as the Penguins were too busy picking fights to score goals. In recent games though, the tide has shifted towards Pittsburgh, however. The Penguins have won 4 out of the last 5 contests, and won the Stanley Cup in 2016.
The Flyers-Penguins rivalry has seen all sorts of twists and turns over the years, but we have never experienced anything like the Stadium Series before. The NHL’s fiercest rivalry will be renewed in its simplest form before 68,000 raucous fans. Regardless of the result, the game is sure to be a classic.