With the 2011 Winter Classic at Heinz Field between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins less than a day away, hockey fans everywhere prepare themselves to hear the consistent over-fluffing of stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, mixed with the forced discussion of what a fierce, and mostly contrived, rivalry the two teams possess with one another.
But as the Pittsburgh Post Gazette found out, despite what the media and league try to strong-arm into the New Year’s Day game, the Penguins’ players know that their animosity with the Capitals takes a backseat to one a little more personal.
“I think Philly will always be No. 1,” said Pittsburgh defenseman Brooks Orpik. “But just from the time I’ve been here, I would say probably Washington and Detroit (are next in line).”
“They (Washington) have to be right there, with Philadelphia,” said the Penguins captain, refusing to leave out the Orange and Black when discussing on-ice hatred. “If not right there, a really close second.”
Other than a few clashes in the mid-nineties, the Capitals and Penguins’ feud is powered mainly by the to two top players in the game going head-to-head. This, along with the bad taste left in Washington after the Penguins knocked the Capitals out of the playoffs with a game 7 victory in 2009, equals a recipe for some extra conflict. However, spawning from the nasty Atlantic Division, Crosby’s entrance into the league being the antithesis of Flyers hockey and the Penguins rolling Philadelphia out of the playoffs twice, including an exit in the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals, and there is something extra special when the Flyers and Penguins meet. And although the NHL might try to force Washington as Pittsburgh’s primary villain, there is no substitute for true distaste.
Just ask the players.
“Philly-Pittsburgh,” said former Flyer and current Capital, Mike Knuble, “was a real good rivalry.”