Flyers and Penguins: A compendium of warfare

From the home office in Kalispell, Montana…

The upcoming season — whenever the NHL and NHLPA decide its starting date — will mark the 45th in competition between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins.

Since this is the hottest rivalry going for the Orange and Black at the moment, it’s only fair that we reflect upon a lifetime’s worth of competition and come up with the best of the best and the worst of the worst between these bitter Keystone foes.

Top 10 regular-season Flyers-Penguins games

1.  March 22, 1984: Flyers 13, Penguins 4 – Of course it’s going to top the list when Philly sets a franchise record for most goals in one game, a mark tied only once since this date.

Helped along by a Pittsburgh squad desperately trying to lose as often as possible down the stretch and steal the first-overall pick from the Devils in the race for Mario Lemieux, you could say the Pens passed with flying colors. The blowout at the Spectrum marked the first time in over 10 years the Flyers had more than one player record a hat trick, with Dave Poulin and Ilkka Sinisalo strafing the net three times each. Tim Kerr scored twice to reach 50 goals for the first time in his career and added three assists.

It wasn’t as easy as it looks. Bob McCammon’s club nearly wasted a 6-1 lead, allowing the Penguins to get within 6-4 by the end of the second before unleashing a seven-goal blitz in the final 20 minutes.

2.  December 11, 2007: Flyers 8, Penguins 2 – In late October of 2006, Sidney Crosby embarrassed the Flyers by recording his first career hat trick in an 8-2 Penguins rout in Philadelphia.

Flash forward just over one year. Having won each of their first two games against the Pens, the Flyers came into this December matchup out for blood and a stranglehold on the eight-game season series. Dany Sabourin and Ty Conklin provided little resistance to a 40-shot barrage, and the hosts doled out punishments on the scoreboard and on the scorecard as things got chippy in the third period.

For Umberger and Lupul, it would be their first hat tricks in a Flyers uniform, and the first of Umberger’s career outright. Lupul added three assists and Mike Richards chipped in three helpers of his own. The rousing victory also marked the first time since December of 1986 that two Flyers posted three-goal nights in the same game.

3.  October 20, 1977: Flyers 11, Penguins 0 – Having ripped the flightless fowl 8-2 at the Igloo five days earlier, Fred Shero’s club piled on unmercifully from the opening faceoff at the Spectrum. Reggie Leach scored twice, Bill Barber did as well as part of a 54-shot fusillade on Dunc Wilson, who was left in for all 11 scores. Bobby Clarke picked up three assists, while Bob “Hound” Kelly added a goal and two helpers in the most lopsided game in the 45-year history of the rivalry.

4.  March 2, 1993: Flyers 5, Penguins 4 – I’ve said it so many times before, and here it is again in print. If any talking head wants to lift his neck out of the sand and praise Philadelphia hockey fans for something, this is it. Mario Lemieux made his return to action after a two-month absence while treating non-Hodgkins lymphoma, and was treated to a standing ovation, as well as cheers when he scored early in the second period.

Ultimately, though they wasted leads of 3-1 and 4-3, Garry Galley provided the game-winner late in regulation. It was the only win for Bill Dineen’s club in seven meetings with Pittsburgh that season.

5.  October 7, 2010: Flyers 3, Penguins 2 – First game in the shiny new CONSOL Energy Center, what with the vial of water passed from the ice at Mellon Arena by Lemieux’s own hand to the new building’s clean sheet and all, and Claude Giroux had to go and ruin it. In front of a sellout crowd, his short-handed goal less than five minutes into the third stood as the deciding tally. It set off a string of five straight wins for Peter Laviolette’s club in the Pens’ new building. Sergei Bobrovsky also announced himself to the league with a 29-save performance in his first NHL appearance.

6.  April 16, 1995: Flyers 4, Penguins 3 (OT) – The “Easter Miracle” in front of a regional TV audience on FOX sees Terry Murray’s rising stars score in the final 20 seconds of regulation and with 90 seconds gone in overtime thanks to a pair of undisciplined penalties taken by veterans Troy Murray and Ulf Samuelsson which led to a 5-on-3 advantage. Mikael Renberg tied it and Rod Brind’Amour won it, beating former Flyers netminder Ken Wregget.

7.  October 16, 1990: Flyers 5, Penguins 1 – A solid road win against a divisional opponent in the early stages of a season wouldn’t be so special except for one thing: it came a day after Kerr learned that his wife, Kathy, passed away at Pennsylvania Hospital after giving birth, due to a fast-spreading infection of unknown origin. Gestures of pure class from the Penguins organization followed, as then-GM Craig Patrick ordered the doors of Civic Arena locked pre-game so the Flyers could have privacy, then added a moment of silence prior to the opening faceoff.

Scott Mellanby scored two goals and Wregget backed it up by stopping 30-of-31 shots.

8.  December 4, 1982: Flyers 0, Penguins 0 – A rarity in the turbo-fueled decade and even more so in club history, Pelle Lindbergh and Denis Herron battled to a scoreless deadlock in the Steel City. The former halted 24 shots and the latter turned aside 30, in the second and final 0-0 score between the two franchises. And yes, this was one of the years the Flyers wore pants.

9.  April 5, 1986: Flyers 4, Penguins 3 (OT) – Thanks in large part to Lemieux’s growth, Pittsburgh went from second-worst in the NHL in his rookie season to playoff contenders in the Patrick Division. Heading into the final Saturday of the regular season, the Pens needed to win to retain hopes of being in, as a March collapse had them teetering on the brink. Despite rolling out to a 2-0 lead in the game’s first 6 1/2 minutes, the Pens folded, letting Dave Brown tie the game with 8:29 remaining. Sinisalo provided the final stake in the heart, scoring at 1:49 of overtime to complete a 6-0-1 mark against their PA rivals.

10. April 1, 2012: Flyers 6, Penguins 4 – Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. But what about the fifth time? Pittsburgh loses its fifth straight home game to the Flyers on April Fools’ afternoon as a national audience on NBC is clued into the violence that springs from this bloodthirsty group. It was everything you want in a hockey game: goals, saves, fights, coaches from both sides jawing at each other. Philly rallies from a 2-0 hole, scoring five straight at one point on a shell-shocked Marc-Andre Fleury.

Top 10 Flyers-Penguins playoff games

1.  April 15, 2012: Flyers 8, Penguins 5  Game 3 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Shocking the experts for the second straight game, Philly goes two-up on the presumed Stanley Cup hopefuls with another come-from-behind victory at CONSOL.

It simply was an avalanche of history and highlights for the winning side: Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux posted their first career hat tricks, and it was the first time in club history two players did so in one playoff game. Giroux set another franchise record with his six-point performance. It marked the first time the Flyers won the opening games on the road in Pittsburgh in a playoff series, and also set a club mark for most goals on the road in a postseason contest. Jaromir Jagr, of all players, netted the game-winner in the third period and Ilya Bryzgalov came up with the save of the decade on Kris Letang.

2.  April 29, 1989: Flyers 4, Penguins 1  Game 7 Patrick Division Finals — Facing the prospect of a terminal series game on the road without their best player, goaltender Ron Hextall, who was felled by a severe groin pull that made it impossible for him to even walk across the street from the team hotel to Civic Arena, Paul Holmgren’s team soldiered on. Shucking aside the memory of Lemieux’s eight-point game four days prior, Wregget stopped 39-of-40 shots, Dave Poulin netted the game-winner while shorthanded in the second period and Scott Mellanby hit the clincher into an empty net to send this miracle team into the semifinals against Montreal.

Head to roughly the midway point of the following video, which are brief highlights of the saga.

3.  May 4-5, 2000: Flyers 2, Penguins 1 Eastern Conference Semifinals Game 4 – It was the game that never ends. Yes, it went on and on, my friends. Until way past 2:30 AM, but it turned out all right thanks to Keith Primeau’s totally original and stunning move on both Darius Kasparaitis and Ron Tugnutt to draw the Flyers even in the series. The completion of an uphill climb after dropping the first two games of the series on home ice, it injected some badly needed adrenaline into a moribund team and shifted momentum to Philly’s side returning home for Game 5.

Was it a “great game” in the classic sense, no way. That was hockey in the late 90s, a war of attrition with the occasional scoring. It managed to be the longest playoff game in modern history and was the first step in creating Primeau’s playoff folk hero status.

4.  April 26, 1997: Flyers 6, Penguins 3  Game 5 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – The Orange and Black give Lemieux what we thought was his NHL sendoff by taking the series 4-1 with a win on home ice. Rod Brind’Amour scored back-to-back shorties on the same Pittsburgh advantage in the first period to erase an early deficit, and Chapter 1 of the ’97 playoff run was officially written.

5.  April 23, 2009: Flyers 3, Penguins 0  Game 5 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Martin Biron’s finest performance in the Philadelphia crease helps John Stevens’ youngsters avoid elimination and the inevitable derision of a hostile crowd following a loss. Biron prevents all 28 Pitt shots from getting past him and Giroux adds a valuable insurance tally early in the third period. This game stands as the only playoff shutout victory the Flyers have recorded against the Pens.

6.  April 25, 1989: Penguins 10, Flyers 7 Game 5 Patrick Division Finals – Yeah, so it was as big and weird a loss as there’s been in club annals, but it was really fun to watch in retrospect. Lemieux ties NHL records with five goals (four in the first period alone with a hat trick in the first seven minutes) and eight points, but Philadelphia recalls playoff magic under Mike Keenan and keeps clawing back in the end, putting so much pressure on Penguins head coach Gene Ubriaco that he leaves Lemieux on the ice for much of the final two minutes as insurance. Of course, there were the fights, because the young Pens didn’t handle their huge lead like pros.

7.  April 21, 1997: Flyers 5, Penguins 3 Game 3 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – The good guys take a 3-0 stranglehold on the series thanks to an avalanche of shots — a team-record 28 in the first period alone — plus some resilience, putting Super Mario one game away from retirement. It was pretty much a clinic for the Legion of Doom from start to finish.

8.  April 11, 2012: Flyers 4, Penguins 3 (OT) Game 1 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – A brilliant opening salvo to the first playoff game last year, Peter Laviolette must have instructed his boys to play possum and take what the Pens could give until the cracks appeared. Trouble was, that didn’t happen until the hosts rolled out to a 3-0 lead after 20 minutes. But character was revealed and the Flyers ripped off four in a row, ending on Jake Voracek’s winner, to jump out to a surprising series lead. The win marked the first time since Game 7 of the 2010 Bruins series that Philly came back to win a playoff game after trailing by three at any point.

9. May 7, 2000: Flyers 6, Penguins 3 Game 5 Eastern Conference Semifinals – Andy Delmore’s place in club lore was cemented with one of the most unlikeliest hat tricks ever, but fans had to be ready for anything after a 5-OT win two days prior. His two-goal effort in Game 3 gave the Flyers their first win in the series, and what was, without argument, his finest performance of a journeyman NHL career put the club one win away from moving into the Eastern Finals on a sweltering Sunday afternoon in South Philly.

10. April 15, 2012: Flyers 8, Penguins 4 Game 3 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – Good goals. Bad goals. Devastating hits. Brawls. Hulk Hogan on ArenaVision. An opposing goaltender acting like Charlestown’s Denis Lemieux at his worst. All played out in front of a sellout crowd howling for blood since 30 minutes before the drop of the puck. In the end, the second-ever 3-0 series lead for Philly over Pittsburgh.

Top 10 worst Flyers-Penguins games

1.  November 16, 1993: Penguins 11, Flyers 5 – Only two games prior, Eric Lindros suffered his second serious knee injury in as many years and would miss a month of action. The game before this one, in Philly, the Flyers lost 7-2 to the Buffalo Sabres, and a test in Pittsburgh would go a long way towards seeing how the club could respond to adversity.

The answer was “not well.” Despite the visitors pulling into a 3-3 tie early in the second period, the Pens kept scoring. And scoring. And scoring. They ran off four straight at the end of the second, then added four more in the third. For stat buffs, this marked the last time Philly served up double digits in a game — with Tommy Soderstrom left in for all 11 on 48 shots. The deluge came without Mario Lemieux doing his usual strafing act, as he was still sidelined with back issues.

2.  April 25, 2009: Penguins 5, Flyers 3 Game 6 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals – How painful is it to see our boys lose any lead to Pittsburgh, let alone a usually iron-clad three-goal margin in an elimination game on home ice? Extremely. It looked like a Game 7 at the Igloo was in the offing after Danny Briere scored at the 4:06 mark of the second period for a 3-0 contest. But Dan Carcillo had to go and fight Max Talbot 15 seconds later to try and push an imaginary nail into an imaginary coffin, Talbot silenced the crowd, and all Hell broke loose.

Five straight Pittsburgh goals later, and the hosts had been eliminated in as crushing a defeat as any in recent history. What made it worse was knowing that we were just the first step to a Penguins championship celebration.

3.  October 28, 2006: Penguins 8, Flyers 2 – Many, many things went wrong for this hockey club during the torturous 2006-07 season. One of them was not winning a single game out of eight in the yearly series against a resurgent Vegas Gold and Black team which had to be re-focused following Lemieux’s permanent retirement. In John Stevens’ second game behind the bench, sophomore Sidney Crosby recorded the first hat trick of his career in this embarrassing loss at the WFC which dropped the hosts to 2-7-1 on the young campaign.

4.  May 18, 2008: Penguins 6, Flyers 0 Game 5 Eastern Conference Finals –  Simply put, a battered and broken team on a surprise playoff run was finally put out of its misery by a host club steamrolling their way into the finals on a wave of momentum. Ryan Malone, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Jordan Staal and Pascal Dupuis beat Martin Biron, while Marc-Andre Fleury stopped Philly cold for the only time in the ’08 postseason with 21 saves.

5.  November 29, 1991: Penguins 9, Flyers 3 – Though things are vastly different now, there was a time in a previous generation when Ed and Jay Snider’s ears were to the ground often, picking up the rumblings from the sellout faithful and acting accordingly. On the day after Thanksgiving, in a matinee at the Spectrum, the 17,380 (including the author and his dad) who attended had their voices heard: PAUL MUST GO! PAUL MUST GO!

Holmgren’s team was in the midst of an eight-game winless streak and in total free fall, having lost 7-3 two nights before to Hartford at home. Philly was never really in this one, down 3-0 after one and 6-0 after two periods. Here are some of the lowlights, from the Pittsburgh broadcast. Homer made it two more games before getting axed in favor of Bill Dineen.

6.  March 20, 1993: Penguins 9, Flyers 3 – Another in a series of games in the early 90s where the Orange and Black were over-matched every time they came to the Steel City, Lemieux scored four times — one game after picking up four goals against Washington — helping the Pens race out to a 7-0 lead after 40 minutes. They shouldn’t have even rescheduled this one, as it was originally postponed due to the “Storm of the Century” that slammed the East Coast a week prior.

7.  February 7, 2001: Penguins 9, Flyers 4 – One week after a four-goal victory at Mellon, the Flyers returned to Pittsburgh following the All-Star break only to run into a buzzsaw of offense. Pittsburgh was up 3-0 just four minutes in, but Philly tied it, thanks in part to Kent Manderville’s first goal in 122 games. That didn’t stop a five-goal explosion in the second period by the hosts, and it didn’t stop the fans from chanting “We Want 10″ after Alex Kovalev finished off his hat trick in the final period for the Pens’ ninth tally.

8.  March 7, 1998: Penguins 6, Flyers 4 — Ground Zero for the Lindros saga, an afternoon tilt in Pittsburgh sees the visitors lose Big E and then lose their **** in blowing a two-goal lead into a two-goal loss. Darius Kasparaitis does the dirt in a one-goal game, and Lindros misses more than a month with a Grade 3 concussion.

9.  October 23, 1982: Penguins 4, Flyers 2 — By this time, Pittsburgh was beginning its slide into the dregs of the NHL, but on this Saturday night early in the 82-83 season, it managed to squeak out a win despite being outshot by a 50-17 margin. Philly had a 38-8 edge after two periods but was only tied 2-2. Doug Lecuyer and Pat Boutette (ask your parents, kids) beat Rick St. Croix in the third for the win.

10. February 21, 2009: Penguins 5, Flyers 4 — Biron’s puck-handling abilities and judgment often got him into trouble. On a Saturday in South Philadelphia, another of his goaltending follies derailed his team’s third-period comeback from deficits of 3-1 and 4-3. Crosby was the beneficiary of the oopsie, hitting the net with 2:45 remaining in one of the more high-octane matchups between the clubs.