Are the Pittsburgh Penguins really hated as much as we are led to believe after the last week or are the power houses of the Eastern Conference a little scared about meeting them in the playoffs. The Penguins managed to keep pace with the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers all season long, even without the world's best player for 60 games. Now that Sidney Crosby is back and looks to be at the top of his game, Pittsburgh will be a major hurdle on the road to the Stanley Cup Finals.
During the last week the Penguins were ripped in the media by coaches for both the Flyers and Rangers as well as analyst Mike Milbury. Do they really feel this way about the Pittsburgh club or are they trying to gain a pyschological advantage going into the playoffs? The answer probably lies some where in the middle.
By now everyone has seen or heard about the Philly-Pens game last Saturday and heard the comments made from the Flyers coaching staff. Head coach Peter Laviolette was upset that Pens coach Dan Bylsma put his 4th line on the ice at the end of the game, when they hadn't played the last 10-12 minutes, calling the move "gutless". Flyers forward Daniel Briere was injured on a clean body check by Pens forward Joe Vitale during the shift. Flyers assistant coach, Craig Berube, took it a little further saying "Crosby and Malkin are the two dirtiest players on their team" and continued about Crosby "the guy gets away with too much, in my opinion, he whines to the refs all day and all night, it's a joke".
Earlier in the game Crosby and Flyers forward Brayden Schenn had a run in. After a whistle Schenn cross checked Crosby from behind, perhaps not happy with the shot he took from Crosby earlier in the shift. It prompted NBC analyst Mike MIlbury to say this. "Little goody two shoes (Crosby) goes into the corner and gives a shot to Schenn. Schenn was late to the party, he should have turned and drilled him right away, but I guess better late than never". Milbury also said "he couldn't help himself because theres a little punk in Crosby. He's not the perfect gentleman. He's not the sweet kid you see in interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I'd say screw him, hit him". Milbury later apologized saying his comments were inappropriate, however the apology fell on def ears.
The Penguins lost that game 6-4 and then defeated the defending Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins 5-2 on Tuesday. On Thursday night Pittsburgh had a chance to wrap up home ice advantage with a win over the Rangers. Pittsburgh won the contest by another 5-2 score, however the focus after the game was on Pens defence man, Brooks Orpik. Orpik was going for a hit on Ranger Derek Stepan and intentional or not, delivered a knee on knee hit. Orpik received a 5 minute major and a game misconduct on the play. New York head coach John Tortorella had this to say about the hit, "It's a cheap dirty hit, I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. So I'm anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect amongst players. None. It's sickening". Tortorella was not done there "It's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time, and look what happens. It's ridiculous. But they'll whine about something else over there, won't they?"
Philadelphia already knows that they are going into Pittsburgh to start the playoffs, and the Rangers are the #1 seed and could see the Penguins as early as round 2. So were these comments made out of hatred in the Penguins or were they pre-meditated and meant to try and get an advantage in the playoffs?
Anyway before the playoffs start the Flyers are finishing the regular season in Pittsburgh on Saturday afternoon. Will there be more fireworks? Will the stars from both teams dress? If they do how much ice time will they see? All good questions that have yet to be answered, however we know one thing, the first round match up between the Flyers and Penguins will be very entertaining and very physical. The only question is will the winner have anything left for the next round.