There are some great rivalries in sports, past and present. In football, you have the NFC East consisting of the Eagles, Giants, Redskins, and Cowboys. In baseball, there is the timeless rivalry of Yankees and Red Sox and new age rivalries like the Phillies and Nationals. Basketball had the great Knicks/Heat battles of the late 90’s or the Sixers/Celtics and Lakers/Celtics games throughout history. One of the greatest rivalries is, no doubt, Duke vs. North Carolina in college basketball.
But there is one rivalry that presently stands above them all: The Philadelphia Flyers vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Thursday night featured the latest installment of this great rivalry. The Flyers lost to the Penguins on home ice, 5-4, after squandering a 4-1 lead after the first period. Last night’s game was just the latest in a string of high-scoring, action-packed moments that fans love. It was also historic in that it marked the first time in 46 years on South Broad Street the Flyers blew a 4-1 lead at any time and lost to Pittsburgh.
In this lockout-shortened season, the Flyers and Pens have picked up where their memorable six-game playoff series left off last year. The Flyers have fallen to the Pens twice this year in three games, but the Flyers can tie the season series March 24 in Pittsburgh. Though the pairing has been reduced from eight games a year from 2005, to six a year from 2008, to just four in 2013, there’s been no shortage of action, drama or storylines.
Although last night’s game did not feature the penalty minutes and fights that the Flyers’ 6-5 win at Pittsburgh on February 20 featured, it was another hotly contested game.
This rivalry is the best in the NHL, and in sports as a whole. So good that the league and the players’ association are about to sign off on a realignment plan for next season which destroys some current rivalries but makes a point of keeping this one intact.
Deadspin’s Barry Petchesky said it best the day Philadelphia improved its all-time regular-season record in the CONSOL Energy Center to 6-1-0:
“The NHL has lucked (or rigged the draft) into an in-state rivalry with three of hockey’s best five players, two fantastic fan bases, and teams that throw defense out the window when they see orange and black or black and gold at the other end of the ice.”
Right now, the Pens are flying high (and leading the Atlantic Division), while the Flyers are struggling to find their footing near the bottom of the playoff bubble. If everything works out the way we’d expect, the Flyers and Pens could continue to build on their rivalry meeting in round one of the NHL playoffs.
Now wouldn’t that be a nice gift from the NHL to their fans — one that’s assured will keep on giving as long as both clubs oblige?