Penguins vs. Flyers: Do the math -- it's a big game
Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds lies on the ice after a shot by teammate Brayden Schenn caromed off his face and into the net for a goal.
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At the moment, it is an upper hand.
By late afternoon, it could be a stranglehold.
The Penguins and Philadelphia figure to see an awful lot of each other in the next few weeks; a couple of collisions at Consol Energy Center this week -- one at 12:38 p.m. today, the other at 4:08 p.m. Saturday -- will determine where their seemingly inevitable first-round playoff series will begin.
And where a Game 7 would be played.
The Penguins, who are fourth in the Eastern Conference, own a three-point lead against the Flyers, who are fifth.
Win in regulation, and the Penguins will be up by five. Lose in regulation, and their advantage shrinks to one.
Doesn't require an advanced degree in mathematics to conclude that home-ice advantage for a Round 1 matchup is very much in play.
No less obvious is that both would like to have it.
What isn't so clear is why it's a priority for the Penguins. Or why they even care, for that matter.
That's because they haven't had anything resembling a home-ice advantage against the Flyers at Consol Energy Center since it opened last season.
Philadelphia won the first regular-season game played there, and has extracted two points from each of the three that have followed.
"Maybe they play better on the road," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "Maybe it's more them than us."
The Flyers are a pretty good away team -- they are 24-12-3 outside of Philadelphia, and challenging Vancouver for the league's best road record -- but the Penguins aren't bad in their own building against most teams, either. Their 29-7-2 mark is the best in the Eastern Conference.
Still, the Flyers' success here since the Penguins abandoned the Civic Arena means the stakes today go beyond the tangible ones. The Penguins could get much more than a couple of points out of a victory.
"It helps maybe to break their [mindset] that they can come in and win every time," left winger Chris Kunitz said.
Whoever wins today's game might have to do it without key personnel.
There has been no word on whether Kris Letang, the Penguins' best defenseman, will return to the lineup after missing three games with an undisclosed injury, and Ilya Bryzgalov, the Flyers' No. 1 goalie, is expected to be given the day off because of a chip fracture in his right foot.
Of course, a case could be made that even if Bryzgalov was completely healthy -- heck, even if Bernie Parent was in his prime and begging to play -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette would be wise to start backup goalie Sergei Bobrovsky today.
Not because Bobrovsky has done anything exceptional lately, but because he seems to own Consol Energy Center at least as much as any of the institutions that financed its construction.
He has been in goal for all four of the Flyers' victories since the building opened, and usually has looked good doing it. Outstanding as Bobrovsky has been here, however, the Penguins have beaten him in Philadelphia, and insist they have no mental block about going against him.
"The times he's played against us, we've been impressed by him because he looks really athletic and moves really well in there," Orpik said. "But would you rather face Bryzgalov, who's arguably the best goalie in the league for the last month or so?"
No matter who's in goal for the Flyers -- or who dresses for either team, for that matter -- there should be the customary surplus of intensity this afternoon. Dropping those two sweaters onto a sheet of ice is like tossing a couple of burning sticks of dynamite into a vat of premium unleaded.
"I know it's a rivalry and we both enjoy playing each other," Kunitz said. "They get up for the game, and we get up for the game.
"I think the fans are part of that. Our fans don't like them, their fans don't like us."
No one disputes that, although Orpik believes there's more to the rivalry than some might realize.
"Playing against them now, I think there's a mutual respect," he said. "Both teams have respect for each other. That said, you always want to beat the other side and compete hard against them.
"There probably are times when fans on the outside are watching and don't think we have any respect for each other, but from the last two seasons playing against each other, I think both teams have a tremendous amount of respect for each other."
NOTES -- The Penguins returned defenseman Simon Despres to their American Hockey League team in Wilkes-Barre. ... The Penguins called off the practice scheduled for Saturday.
Matchup: Philadelphia Flyers at Penguins, 12:38 p.m. today, Consol Energy Center.
TV, radio: WPXI, WXDX-FM (105.9).
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Sergei Bobrovsky for Flyers.
Penguins: Had 10-game winning streak at home ended Tuesday by a 5-3 loss to New York Islanders. ... C Sidney Crosby has 26 goals, 36 assists in 37 career games against Philadelphia. ... Are outscoring opponents, 133-93, at Consol Energy Center this season.
Flyers: Lead season series, 3-1, including 4-2 victory Dec. 29 at Consol Energy Center. ... LW Scott Hartnell has scored two of team's three winning goals this season against Penguins. ... Have 29 power-play goals on road, second-highest total in league.
Hidden stat: Penguins have all-time record of 21-1 at home when Crosby, Evgeni Malkin both score goals.
First Published April 1, 2012 12:00 am