Flyers crumble when Crosby at his best

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The previous time the Penguins played the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Sidney Crosby put the Flyers out of their misery. He scored the tying and clinching goals in a 5-3 Game 6 win in Philadelphia to send the Penguins on to Round 2 in 2009, the year they won the franchise's third Cup.

"I'm sure Sid takes it personally," Max Talbot said of the Penguins beating the Flyers.

Talbot was Crosby's teammate and close friend then. When the teams open their first-round playoff series Wednesday at Consol Energy Center, he will be playing for the Flyers. He knows exactly what to expect.

Crosby's absolute best.

It's not as if Crosby needs extra motivation, especially after he missed the playoffs last season with concussion-like symptoms. He might be this city's most driven athlete, not just now, but ever. He would play all out, all of the time if the opponent were the Columbus Blue Jackets. More than anything, he wants to be a champion. Certainly, he's playing like it. He will take a five-game points streak (four goals, eight assists) into Game 1. Since his second return this season from his concussion-like symptoms, he has six goals, 19 assists and 25 points in 14 games.

But Crosby is human. Don't buy his protestations Monday that all playoff series are created equally. This one is against the Flyers. That automatically has to make it more special for Crosby because the Flyers and their vile fans have been trying to torment him since virtually the day he stepped into the NHL as a can't-miss hotshot.

Officially, it goes back to a game Nov. 16, 2005, in Philadelphia, in Crosby's rookie year. The Flyers' Derian Hatcher put the butt end of his stick in Crosby's face, shattering three of his teeth and leaving him with a cut lip that required four stitches. Crosby complained to the officials that no penalty was called on Hatcher and was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his trouble. He then slammed his helmet against the wall when he got to the penalty box.

Flyers fans have never forgotten that, just as they've never forgotten then-Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock accusing Crosby of diving.

"Cindy Cryby!"

It's been going like that since. "Crosby sucks" chants are a big part of every Penguins-Flyers game in Philadelphia. "It's been going on for so long that it's just crowd noise now," Crosby has said. That might true, but the atmosphere should be especially nasty Sunday at Wells Fargo Center for Game 3 after Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube -- among others -- lit into Crosby last week on Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.

"This guy gets away with too much, in my opinion," Berube grunted. "He whines to the refs all day and all night. It's a joke."

Some Penguins fans were offended by Berube's observation. They should have been thrilled. Berube did Crosby and the Penguins a favor.

"I'm sure Sid takes it personally."

The louder the taunts and the more vicious the accusations from the Flyers and their fans, the better Crosby plays. Go back to that game in November 2005. Crosby came back from Hatcher's unscheduled dental work to score the winning goal on a breakaway in overtime. The next season, Crosby got his first NHL hat trick against the Flyers. Seven weeks after that, the teams played again and the Flyers' Todd Fedoruk shoved Crosby at the end of the first period as Crosby was preparing to do an on-ice interview with TSN of Canada. Before the game was over, Crosby had a career-best six-point game in an 8-4 win.

In 39 regular-season games against the Flyers, Crosby has 27 goals, 39 assists and 66 points. That's a 1.69 points-per-game pace. In 11 playoff games against the Flyers, when the checking is tighter and the hockey more intense, Crosby had six goals, nine assists and 15 points. That's 1.36 points per game. Crosby and the Penguins eliminated the Flyers in five games in the Eastern Conference final in 2008.

Yet, Crosby insists that beating the Flyers isn't extra special for him. "I think it's good to win any playoff series, no matter who it's against." That sounds good, but it's not very believable. Crosby let his guard down just a bit after the Flyers beat the Penguins, 6-4, April 1 at Consol Energy Center. That was the game in which Flyers center Brayden Schenn gave Crosby a cross-check from behind after a whistle. "The guy did something to Schenner a little bit earlier so he just went and gave him a little shot," Berube growled. "It wasn't like it was a tough, bad cross-check. The guy dove."

Crosby's response?

"We don't like each other so that's the way it is. You can dissect it all you want, but, really, when it comes down to it, we just don't like one another. You're going to see a lot of that stuff. I know that's probably the most hacks I've given out personally in a long time. So they seem to bring out the worst in me, too."

The worst? Maybe.

The best? Absolutely.

Penguins in five.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published April 10, 2012 12:00 AM


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