Inspiring words: Penguins must cope with more than Flyers today
Evgeni Malkin skates by as Flyers fans let their opinions be known at a game in February at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
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PHILADELPHIA -- The name on the outside changes a lot.
The atmosphere inside never seems to.
It doesn't matter whether the place is known as CoreStates or First Union, Wachovia or Wells Fargo.
The arena where the Penguins and Philadelphia will meet in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series -- when the Penguins will try to begin clawing out of the 2-0 hole they're in after losing Games 1 and 2 at home -- today is not a particularly pleasant place for visiting teams.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 3:08 p.m. today, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia.
- Series: Flyers lead, 2-0.
- TV, radio: WPXI, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Penguins: Are 5-6 in series they started 0-2. ... Have outscored Flyers in first period, 6-1. ... Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz tied for playoff-worst minus-5 before Saturday.
- Flyers: Have won first two games on road for second time in club history. ... Have outscored Penguins, 7-1, in third period/overtime. ... Scott Hartnell's 12 hits tied for playoff lead before Saturday.
- Hidden stat: Penguins power play is 2 for 7 with two short-handed goals allowed; Flyers power play is 2 for 3.
Especially when that team happens to be visiting from the left side of the Commonwealth.
"It's a very tough building to play in," Penguins center Jordan Staal said.
The team based there has an awful lot to do with that -- the Flyers would be no less imposing if they played their home games at, say, Longwood Gardens or on Independence Mall -- but the environment created by their fans in the Wells Fargo Center can add to the degree of difficulty.
Sometimes, it's hostile.
Sometimes, it's venomous.
Sometimes, it's toxic.
And sometimes, it's worse.
"The crowd can be very ruthless," Staal said.
Often, with no regard for anyone who's within earshot, other than an intended target.
"In Philly, some of the stuff you hear, you just can't believe it," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "And then you turn around, and it's a guy with his 3-year-old next to him."
Orpik smiled which, perhaps surprisingly, the Penguins do a lot when talking about playing in the Wells Fargo Center.
Vicious as the verbal and visual assaults from the stands can be -- Sidney Crosby, of course, is the crowd's pinata of choice -- the Penguins actually find some of them amusing.
"There are always some creative and humorous signs in warmups," Orpik said. "That's always fun. And entertaining. They probably think it rattles us, but it actually loosens you up and entertains you more than anything. Gets you going."
Something clearly has that effect on the Penguins when they venture across the state, based on the results they've gotten in recent years.
They went 1-1-1 at the Wells Fargo Center in 2011-12, and are 12-7-1 there over the past six regular seasons. Perhaps more important, the Penguins won three of their five most recent playoff games in Philadelphia, including one that clinched their spot in Round 2 in 2009.
"It's fun," defenseman Kris Letang said. "It's loud. You get into it pretty easily. Their fans are all in orange. They have a good crowd, like we do."
He pointed out, however, that there are limits to just how involved the people in the seats can get.
"The fans aren't going to start jumping on the ice and attacking people," Letang said. "At the end of the day, they're in the crowd. They're just doing their job. They're being loud, and that's fun."
The Penguins have been reminded, harshly and repeatedly, that getting a lead against the Flyers guarantees nothing, but they also understand that it's better than the alternative.
Especially when the game is in Philadelphia.
"It's a building where you definitely don't want to get behind, because it gets really loud," Orpik said. "If you can get a good lead on them, it's kind of like Montreal or New York, where ... the fans will get on [the home team]."
Perhaps, it is not a coincidence, then, that Philadelphia had a better record on the road (25-13-3) than at home (22-13-6) during the regular season. Boston and Ottawa were the only other clubs to record more victories on the road than at home this season. Still, it's not as if being in familiar surroundings is a liability for the Flyers.
"They're a good team in that building," Staal said. "They play hard and they come hard."
So do the people who pay to watch them. And while the fans' intensity, which often takes the form of high-decibel hatred, might benefit the home team, it doesn't necessarily hurt the visitors.
"I don't know if it helps or not, but it definitely gets you involved, gets you in the game," Staal said. "I don't know if it creates more focus, but it definitely gets you awake and ready to play."
Not, of course, that that's often an issue when the Penguins and Flyers share a slab of ice, no matter where in Pennsylvania that happens to occur.
"I like every single game I play against Philly," Letang said. "It's fun to be part of."
First Published April 15, 2012 12:00 am