They hadn't been to a Stanley Cup final for 16 years, so when the opportunity to return finally came, the Penguins didn't feel obliged to seek anyone's permission.
Didn't ask meekly to be invited in.
Didn't knock on the door and request permission to enter.
They kicked it down.
Knocked it right off the hinges.
And, in the process, reduced an opponent that has tormented them like no other to something more like a stain than a speed bump on their road to the championship round.
They defeated Philadelphia, 6-0, at Mellon Arena in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final yesterday, earning their first berth in the Cup final since 1992, when they won the second of the franchise's two championships.
It was the most lopsided of the Penguins' 12 victories in these playoffs and arguably one of the most satisfying in team history, given the misery the Flyers have inflicted on them for much of the past four decades.
"I think it's about time the Penguins won a series against the Flyers," center Max Talbot said. "It's been a long time."
It has been forever. The Flyers had won the previous three playoff meetings and nearly every other collision of consequence with the Penguins since the teams entered the NHL in 1967.
The Penguins will face the winner of the Western Conference final between Dallas and Detroit in the next round. The Red Wings lead that series, 3-2, going into Game 6 tonight in Dallas, but the Stars have won the past two.
Although the starting date for the Cup final has not been announced, indications are that Game 1 will be Saturday if the Red Wings win tonight. Detroit will have home-ice advantage if it advances, but the Penguins will if Dallas manages to become the third team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
The victory yesterday earned the Penguins the Prince of Wales trophy for the third time. It was presented by NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly in a postgame ceremony but, in keeping with hockey tradition, the Penguins treated it like a vial of poison.
Perhaps the greatest challenge Sidney Crosby -- who ranks in the top three in the world not only among hockey talents, but among superstitious people -- has faced during his first season as captain was honoring his obligation to be photographed with Daly and the trophy while avoiding coming anywhere close to making contact with it.
"You don't see too many guys touch it," Crosby said. "We all realize that's not the one we want to be holding."
The Flyers had hoped for a lift from the return of defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who missed the first four games because of a blood clot, and perhaps he did help. Maybe if he hadn't dressed, the Flyers would have lost by eight.
Timonen probably would have been given the day off, however, if the Flyers had realized that they wouldn't be able to sneak anything past Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who stopped 21 shots to earn his league-leading third shutout of the playoffs.
"This series was Fleury," Flyers center Daniel Briere said. "He made all the big saves."
Ryan Malone gave Fleury the only score he needed with a power-play goal at 2:30 of the first period, when a Crosby shot caromed off his left skate and past Flyers goalie Martin Biron. Evgeni Malkin then tucked a shot between Biron's legs from near the right post at 9:50 to make it 2-0.
"They had tons of jump, got a bounce right away and never looked back," Flyers forward and Plum native R.J. Umberger said.
The Penguins wrung any suspense out of the outcome in the second period, as Hossa (8:24), Malone (11:42) and Jordan Staal (19:02) beat Biron before Dupuis closed out the scoring at 4:03 of the third.
By then, there was nothing left to do but run down the clock, ignore the Prince of Wales trophy and react to winning the conference with the same emotion that might be expected after a neutral-site exhibition game that ends in a scoreless tie.
"We're playing for one thing ... the Stanley Cup," left winger Jarkko Ruutu said. "That is just one more step toward getting there."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com . First Published May 19, 2008 4:00 AM