Sidney Crosby (No. 87) and Sean Couturier
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers hate each other and if the points break the right way, they could match up in the first round of the playoffs
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers have one of the best rivalries going right now. And while the Battle of Pennsylvania resulted in four wins for the Penguins this season, two of those contests went to overtime - including the final meeting this past weekend.
But wouldn’t it be great if we got to see these two teams butt heads again?
As it stands, the Flyers are dueling Columbus for third place in the Metropolitan Division. Should Philly gain the upper hand, they would likely meet the Penguins (who could catch Washington for first, but probably won’t) in the first round. And that would be awesome.
We’ve seen the chaos that is the Battle of Pennsylvania before. And while Pittsburgh would be favored in a hypothetical series, it’s also the kind of meeting that would certainly have a ton of intangibles in play - not the least of which is how the Flyers play up to teams when they are underdogs. This is particularly true against Pittsburgh, their hated cross-state rival. We’ve seen high-scoring, bare-knuckle playoff matchups between these teams before and while the fighting would probably be lessened this time around, the physicality will still be at full-boil.
But what’s really intriguing here is how the Flyers have been playing this year. Philadelphia is an extremely streaky team, which means that they could either lay an egg in the first round of the post-season, or come in hot and surprise some folks. They’ve got the tools for the latter.
One of the biggest reasons Philadelphia has looked good (when they’ve looked good) this season has been center Sean Couturier, who has become a legitimate two-way beast after years of excelling more on the defensive side of the puck. Couturier could very well double his previous high for points in a season if he finishes strong in the final six games of the regular season. He’s sitting at 71 right now, with a previous high of 39 to his credit. At the least, he’s close to doubling his past best.
On top of that, Claude Giroux is still playing incredible hockey - his 91 points put him only two away from his career best of 93. You also have Shayne Gostisbehere doing big offensive numbers on the blueline, plus a very solid supporting cast. The big question, as it has been for time immemorial, is goaltending. Petr Mrazek has cooled down since his hot start with the Flyers and on even ground, he’s no match for Pittsburgh’s Matt Murray. But Murray has been dogged by injuries this season and, while healthy now, remains an X-factor based on concussion history. Could Mrazek get hot at the right time? Sure. Could the Penguins survive if Tristan Jarry had to fill in for Murray? Now that’s an interesting question.
Jarry lacks NHL experience, but it should be said that he won a Memorial Cup with the Edmonton Oil Kings in 2014. In the final game, he shut down a very potent Guelph Storm team that had a ton of talent up front, including future NHLers Robby Fabbri and Brock McGinn.
And of course, Jarry would not be alone. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still two of the best centers on the planet, while Derick Brassard is playing down a rung thanks to that depth. Phil Kessel remains a top-tier danger up front and the supporting cast is top-notch. The Penguins keep “finding” gems because their system in the AHL is closely aligned with the NHL product and the organization values speed amongst the top virtues in a player.
Can the Flyers hang with the Penguins when they go for a skate? Can the Penguins avoid getting pulled into a mudfight with a team that boasts talent and grit? We love the Stanley Cup playoffs because it rarely goes according to plan. And when the Battle of Pennsylvania happens, things never stick to script. Let’s hope the Hockey Gods reward us with another edition this spring.