PITTSBURGH (AP) - Flying sticks. Pointed fingers. Postgame putdowns. And that was just the coaches.
What can the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers possibly do in Saturday’s regular-season finale to top their last meeting, a 6-4 Flyers win at Consol Energy Center this week that served as a preview of what will be a contentious first-round playoff series?
The smart answer might be nothing.
For all the bad blood between the two rivals, each knows there’s too much to risk and little to gain if they spend 60 minutes (or more) trying to rattle the other. The Penguins have already clinched the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference and will have home ice advantage against the fifth-seeded Flyers when the playoffs begin next week.
Neither team wants to risk injury to a star player or the threat of discipline if things get out of hand.
No wonder Philadelphia center Claude Giroux thinks it’s going to be “weird knowing the game doesn’t mean anything.”
Unlike their last meeting, which included a last-minute brawl, Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette calling Pittsburgh counterpart Dan Bylsma “gutless” and led NBC Sports analyst Mike Milbury to label Penguins star Sidney Crosby “a punk” and a “goody two-shoes” while appearing on a Philadelphia radio station.
Milbury later apologized. Don’t expect the same kind of backtracking from Philadelphia assistant coach Craig Berube, who described Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin as the “dirtiest players on their team.”
The Penguins have tried to take the trash-talking in stride. Besides, the Flyers aren’t the only opponent with an axe to grind. New York coach John Tortorella called Pittsburgh “one of the most arrogant organizations in the league” following a 5-2 Penguins win Thursday that included Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik getting a 5-minute major penalty for a knee-to-knee collision with New York forward Derek Stepan.
“They whine about this stuff all the time, and look what happens,” Tortorella said. “It’s ridiculous. But they’ll whine about something else over there, won’t they, starting with their two … stars.”
“It really is garbage,” Crosby said. “It’s nonsense and if they want to do it great, but I’m not going to waste my time answering questions about it all the time. It’s getting pretty old.”
Maybe, but it doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
Though Pittsburgh has arguably been the best team in the NHL since Jan. 1, the Penguins have been unable to deal with the Flyers. Philadelphia has won four of the five meetings this season and is unbeaten at Consol Energy Center since the arena opened in 2010.
The winner on Saturday would seem to have momentum, though Philadelphia forward and former Pittsburgh star Jaromir Jagr doesn’t think there will be much carryover no matter what happens.