You could call it hockey for people who don't like hockey, but that's a disservice to those of us who love a good, boring, defensive clinic, and also love Flyers-Penguins barnburners. Last night's edition featured everything you'd want to show a friend who isn't sold about the NHL: end-to-end action, comebacks, comebacks the other way, thwarted comebacks, a hat trick, a Gordie Howe hat trick, a climactic regulation gamewinner. The best part is—these teams can't seem to play any other sort of game. Flyers and Pens is almost always the game of the night, and last night, though the season is young, they put on the game of the year.
Last spring, these teams met in a playoff series that set all sorts of scoring and PIM records. It was not an anomaly. Meeting for the first time since opening night, they combined for 11 goals and 18 penalties in a 6-5 Philadelphia win. But a scoresheet doesn't do justice to the ebb and flow of this one.
"Things happened, and things happened fast," the Flyers' Max Talbot said. "People were screaming. It was intense."
The Flyers overcame a 2-0 first period deficit—by the end of the first period. The Penguins were down 5-3 in the third, but seemed to storm all the way back to tie with a pair of 5-on-3 goals. The second was overturned, ruled a kick by Chris Kunitz—but it didn't matter, because three minutes later, they tied it up for real on a Brandon Sutter wraparound.
That sent the Consol Energy Center crowd into conniptions—for exactly 32 seconds. That's when Philly's Jakub Voracek scored his third of the night from behind the goal line, off Tomas Vokoun's skate, with 1:31 left.
This time it was Vokoun, but Marc-Andre Fleury and Ilya Bryzgalov can tell you there's something about this rivalry that turns perfectly good goaltenders into '80s goalies. "When these two teams meet, you're sure to see fireworks," said Wayne Simmonds, who had two goals, a fight, and an assist, which were only good for the game's second star.
The NHL has lucked (or rigged the draft) into a in-state rivalry with three of hockey's best five players, two fantastic fanbases, and teams that throw defense out the window when they see orange and black or black and gold at the other end of the ice. The Penguins sit near the top of the conference (they could have taken first with a win). The Flyers are just outside the playoff picture, but they get Scott Hartnell back in a week, and just completed the road-heaviest portion of their schedule. If there's any justice in this world, they'll meet again in the postseason.