As the NHL playoff races heat up, particularly in the East, things are getting hot! The age-old Pittsburgh-Philadelphia rivalry is about to get super intense as they will matchup regularly until the end of the season. Both teams have upped their games and are involved in trying desperately to win a playoff spot as a wild card team.
Saturday’s night meeting will be the first of three crucial matchups down the stretch to the finish line. The Philadelphia Flyers recently have been playing very effectively, they’re offense has caught fire and they’re expected to have forward Jakub Voracek back from injury as they look to face off against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins, with whom they have a rough and tumble relationship.
On Wednesday, Philadelphia won 3-2 in Chicago and that win for a moment put them in the Eastern Conference’s second wild-card spot. That trend probably won’t end soon as these teams vie for those few positions. Tomorrow night they’ll go into this contest for a wildcard spoy sitting one point back of the Detroit Red Wings, who themselves are on the cusp of maybe missing the post season after 24 seasons of getting in. The East is all about being in a precarious situation and it probably won’t be resolved until the last day of the season when the Flyers face off against the Pens again.
The Flyers as of now, are 34-23-12, but they have gone on an 8-1-1 win streak that includes three consecutive home victories to make up ground against the Pens and the Red Wings.
On Wednesday night, Flyers’ Brayden Schenn scored the tying goal against the Blackhawks in the second period before Radko Gudas’ deflected a shot that found itself at the back of the net, in the middle of the third frame.
“You can see all the guys buying in and pulling together,” Gudas said. “It’s a great feeling to be around this team right now. Even if you get down one goal, we’re coming back. You’ve got that feeling inside that we’re working hard to come back.”
What’s really been impressive during the Flyers surge is that Voracek had been out for the last nine games with an injury to his left foot. He was cleared to play today, and took full participation in practice today, but still, Philly coach Dave Hakstol, told media that Voracek will be a game-time decision.
When Voracek spoke with media soon after, made it sound as if he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night. He has four goals and eight assists during a seven-game point streak against the Penguins, sp he would be an important piece to have on the ice against the Pens.
“I pushed it really hard,” Voracek said. “It felt pretty good. Now I just have to find a way to help the team win a game.”
They had won eight in a row against Pittsburgh who is 38-24-8, before Phil Kessel scored twice and Sidney Crosby had a goal and an assist in their last matchup on Jan. 21 which resulted in a Pens 4-3 win.
Pittsburgh does not feel safe even though they are four points ahead of the Flyers in the wild-card standings. What could come down to a rivalry played out to the finish line, they’ll be facing each other on April 3, and in the Penguins’ regular-season finale on April 9. Those 4 points could make all the difference, especially if they are tied and it’s comes down to head to head play.
“You’ve got to be intense, and in a game like that the intensity is higher. The emotion is higher,” Crosby told local media. “You’ve got to raise your level as well, but at the same time just be disciplined and focus on playing the game. You’ve got to focus on playing the game and getting two points.”
Pittsburgh has been on a roll too since beating Carolina 4-2 on Thursday night, getting its fourth straight win. The streak strangely enough, started when Evgeni Malkin was sidelined from an upper-body injury that he got in a game versus Columbus on March 11. He’ll still be out for at least another five weeks, as the Pens try hard to make it past the New York Islanders, who have a one-point lead for the Metropolitan Division’s last automatic playoff spot.
The Penguins dug deep and were able to rally from a two-goal deficit on a Thursday night, harkening back to the last meeting they had with the Flyers.
“It should be a good game,” said forward Carl Hagelin to reporters. “We’re right there with each other and both teams are looking to get two points, and hopefully we get them.”
Pens’ goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury has a 1.75 goals-against average in his last eight starts and should be in top form when he takes over the net for this game. But his recird against Philly has not been so stellar, going a 4.20 GAA in his last six games against the Flyers.
It’s unclear if Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth will get the nod for Philadelphia’s goal, but but are strong picks for a team who is not relying on their goaltenders to win them games. The only downside the Flyers will have to compensate for is that they will be without forward Chris VandeVelde. He got a call from the league and was suspended for two games for flagrantly elbowing Chicago’s Jonathan Toews in the head.
But it’s that passion and intensity that has won them games recently, so look for a chippy game that anyone can take.
Our Pick: Pens over Flyers, 5-2