(Sports Network) - After squaring off in last spring's most memorable playoff
series, the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will renew their
heated rivalry Saturday in the City of Brotherly Love.
Philadelphia ousted the Penguins in six games during the opening round of the
2012 Eastern Conference playoffs. The series was marked by an incredible
display of offense, or, if you prefer, a terrible display of defense, and also
featured too many physical altercations to recall.
Game 3, which ended as an 8-4 win for Philadelphia, was particularly chippy
and resulted in the suspensions of Pittsburgh's Arron Asham, Craig Adams and
James Neal. Asham signed with the New York Rangers in the offseason, but still
has one game remaining on his suspension.
In the end, the Flyers scored 30 goals over the six games and Pittsburgh
notched 26. The 45 goals tallied through the first four games of the series
set an NHL record for the most total goals in Games 1-4.
With all the bad blood and offensive excitement on display in last year's
postseason meeting it's no coincidence these cross-state rivals are playing
each other on the first day of action in this lockout-shortened season.
"It's a big game," said Pens head coach Dan Bylsma. "It's the start of the
season and it's a divisional game vs. Philly. I think every player, new or
guys that have been on this team for a while, know that rivalry, and are going
to experience it come Saturday."
The Pens, of course, are out for a measure of revenge in Philadelphia on
Saturday and having their superstar captain Sidney Crosby healthy at the start
of the season is a good sign. Crosby, who was limited to only 63 regular-
season games over the past two seasons due to concussion and neck issues,
didn't make his season debut until late November in 2011-12.
Crosby torched Philadelphia for three goals and five assists in last year's
playoff series. The 25-year-old has compiled an amazing 27 goals and 66 points
in 39 regular-season games against the Flyers during his standout career.
The Pens not only have something to prove to the Flyers but also to the rest
of the league. Since winning a Stanley Cup title in 2009, Pittsburgh has
failed to make it past the second round of the playoffs and the club has
suffered opening-round losses in each of the past two years. Despite those
recent postseason flameouts, Pittsburgh still is one of the favorites to win
the Stanley Cup this season, just like in 2011-12 before it was upset by the
In light of his club's recent playoff struggles, Pens GM Ray Shero decided to
shake things up with a blockbuster trade at the last draft. Pittsburgh swapped
centermen with Carolina, sending Jordan Staal to the Hurricanes for Brandon
Sutter, who is expected to take over the Pens' No. 3 centerman spot behind
Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Pens also received defensive prospect Brian
Dumoulin and the eighth overall pick (Derrick Pouliot) from Carolina for
While the Flyers shocked many folks by upsetting Pittsburgh in the conference
quarterfinals, Philadelphia was ousted in the next round by New Jersey. The
Flyers scored 11 goals over the five games against the Devils, who clearly
were better equipped to handle Philly's offense than Pittsburgh.
Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette will have a new captain this season
as Claude Giroux takes over the "C" from Chris Pronger. While Pronger is still
under contract with the Flyers, he hasn't played a game since Nov. 19 of last
season due to post-concussion syndrome and it seems likely that the former
Hart and Norris Trophy winner's career is over.
Giroux, 25, is the 19th captain in Flyers' history and is coming off a career-
best 93 points in 2011-12.
While Giroux's new responsibility gives him added pressure, no Flyer will be
under the microscope more than goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov this year. Bryzgalov
had an up-and-down first season as Philadelphia's No. 1 goaltender in 2011-12,
and the Flyers will expect a more consistent effort from the eccentric
netminder in 2012-13. Bryzgalov received a nine-year, $51 million contract
from the Flyers prior to the 2011-12 campaign and he has some serious work to
do to prove he was worth that price tag.
"The unknown is our goaltending and injuries," Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said
recently. "Ilya (Bryzgalov) has had a good camp. He's looked tremendous. I
expect him to carry that on."
Philadelphia won't have forward Danny Briere on Saturday as the diminutive
sniper is sidelined with a hairline fracture in his wrist. Briere suffered the
injury while playing in Germany during the lockout and it's unclear when he'll
be able to return. He's also expected to miss Philadelphia's game Sunday in
Before meeting in the playoffs last season, the Flyers won four of the six
regular-season meetings against Pittsburgh in 2011-12. Not counting the
postseason, Philadelphia has claimed seven of the last 10 contests in this
series but the Penguins have won eight of the previous 11 encounters on the
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