By Tim Panaccio in Pittsburgh
It doesn't get much better than this -- Flyers and Penguins to open a playoff series.
And the thing is, the hype has been going on for two, full weeks because these two teams knew they would be facing each other before the regular season ended.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma admitted the build-up to this series was pretty overwhelming. In fact, there is so much national U.S. and Canadian media here already that the Penguins had to add another press room set-up and this is a new building.
"The media and attention to this matchup, this rivalry, this series has been I would say, the only time I have been in a city other than the finals, anything this big, was against Washington once [in 2009]," Bylsma said.
"When you talk to people around the league, they are talking about two really good teams. Some people have this as a conference final or a final in the first round.
"Two teams that have had very good seasons and won a lot of hockey games. Both teams consider themselves in the top of the league and quality teams they are. It's cross-state rivals, it's Flyers-Penguins, and you are getting a lot of that hype, as well."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette was more reserved when about the series buildup.
"Certainly, you are talking about a couple of teams steep in tradition," he said. "Down the last couple months of the regular season and played into it the last month, it was a good playoff series.
"Both organizations have had strong years. And they're in a first-round matchup which I think puts more hype into itself."
Won't bother him
Sidney Crosby says he will not be intimidated by the Flyers in this series, or allow their antics from the past to bother him.
"Some things never change and that's one of them," he said. "I don't think that changes my mindset at all. I don't think there is going to be much feeling out because we do know each other so well.
"Most times teams in that situation get right into it and both teams know what to expect. The fact we played each other pretty frequently down the stretch I would expect it to be pretty intense.
"A lot of times you forget about all that stuff. That's there in every playoff series somewhat. Maybe not to this extent, but nobody ever remembers what is said. Everybody always remembers who wins the series."
The Flyers used 12 rookies this season. Six were regulars by the end, and five were constants the entire way. Their rookies accounted for 64 goals and 129 points - both league highs.
Flyer rookies played 445 games. The Penguins are not expected to dress a rookie. Their rookies accounted for 63 games played this season.
Does it matter?
"Not to me," Flyer rookie Zac Rinaldo said. "I think it is to our advantage. Rookies are younger, fresher, more energy. It works to our advantage to have more rookies than them."
Jaromir Jagr makes no pretense that one of the things he looked forward to in coming back to the NHL from Russia after three years was the Stanley Cup playoffs.
"The last playoff series I played was against Pittsburgh, then I took three years off and I'm here back again," Jagr said. "That's probably what I missed the most, the playoffs in the NHL. It's great excitement for the players, for the fans.
"Every game is on NHL ... and every great play means a lot. You can change a series with one great play, or you can lose it with one bad mistake. That's why it's so crucial to play 60 minutes every game no matter what the score is."
How emotional will it be for him to play a playoff series for the Penguins' most hated rival in the city where he carved his teeth of two Stanley Cups before he turned 21?
"I'm not going to think about it I'm just going to play my best hockey in the playoffs and I want to help this team to win," Jagr said.
"It's my goal [when] I came here, I came back from Russia to have a chance to play in playoffs and go far in playoffs and I'm sure we are going to face a great team in the first round but you cannot do anything about it. All you have to do is you have to beat them."
This will be Crosby's first playoff series against the Flyers without his buddy from Team Canada, Mike Richards, who won't be playing head-to-head against him.
And no Jeff Carter, either. Are the Flyers a different team without them?
"They play a similar style," Crosby said. "They have a lot of depth. I don't see a lot of difference in terms of their style of play. They're actually pretty similar."
BTW: Claude Giroux is expected to go up against Crosby in the series.
Malkin in the middle
Everyone talks about the physicality of the Flyers and how it plays out in the series, especially against Evgeni Malkin, who is a physical, yet skilled centreman.
"Yeah, physical of course, but we're ready," Malkin said. "We have great defencemen - Engo [Deryk Engelland] and Brooks [Orpik] are pretty tough, too. And our forwards are strong. We have [Arron] Asham, Joey V [Joe Vitale] and those guys ready to play."
Flyers rookie Sean Couturier is expected to again go up against Malkin in this series, just as he did in the games at the end of the season. It's a huge challenge for the guy they call, "Coots."
The Flyers and their coaches consider Malkin to be a "sneaky/dirty" player. He gets his shots in. Gave Couturier a couple face washes this season.
"Yeah, there is stuff always going on behind the play," Couturier said. "They do it well. A lot of players do that and we really can't control that stuff. We focus on what we have to do."
Nothing changes on both sides from Tuesday in terms of long-term injuries. Flyers finally acknowledged that Danny Briere (back spasm) and Nicklas Grossmann (right knee sprain) will play.
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