One of the best current rivalries in all of professional sports will resume Thursday in the City of Brotherly Love, as the Philadelphia Flyers host the hated Pittsburgh Penguins at Wells Fargo Center.
Meeting for the third of four scheduled encounters this season, the Flyers and Penguins met in the playoffs last spring for a wild, high-scoring series, which Philadelphia won in six games. The two squads combined to score 56 goals during that postseason series, with the Penguins allowing 30.
After Pittsburgh notched a 3-1 win in Philadelphia to begin the season on Jan. 19, the most recent encounter between these clubs more closely resembled last year's playoff matchup.
The Flyers recorded a 6-5 win Feb. 20 in Pittsburgh as Jakub Voracek contributed a hat trick to Philadelphia's win. Voracek scored the game-winner with 1:31 left in regulation -- just 32 seconds after Pittsburgh had tied the contest at 5-5.
Tomas Vokoun allowed six goals on 32 shots for Pittsburgh in that loss and Marc-Andre Fleury is likely to get a crack at the Flyers on Thursday. Fleury is 22-13-1 in 40 career games against Philly and he stopped 26-of-27 shots when the Pens beat the Flyers on Jan. 19.
Not counting last spring's playoff meeting, the Flyers have won six of nine in this series, but Pittsburgh has taken two of three in Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh enters Thursday's contest on a two-game win streak and the club has won four of six since losing to the Flyers on Feb. 20. The Pens' most recent win came Monday against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, as the home club used the return of Evgeni Malkin to defeat the Bolts, 4-3, in regulation.
Malkin returned from a four-game absence to post a goal and an assist. Last year's Hart Trophy winner, Malkin had been out due to a concussion he suffered in a game against Florida on Feb. 22.
Sidney Crosby added a goal and an assist while Chris Kunitz and James Neal also scored for Pittsburgh, which got 25 saves from Fleury.
"It's not always easy but we do our best to make sure we produce," said Crosby. "Tonight was no different. They were tough there through those first two periods, but we started to get things together in the third and it paid off."
Crosby and Kunitz both enter Thursday's test on five-game point streaks.
The Penguins played their second straight game without defenseman Paul Martin, who is dealing with a lower-body issue. Martin is questionable for Thursday.
The Flyers will try to bounce back from a loss when they host Thursday's Atlantic Division showdown. Philadelphia had won two straight before suffering a 4-2 setback Tuesday night against another divisional opponent, the New York Rangers. Rick Nash registered the go-ahead and insurance tallies in the third period to lift New York to the home win at Madison Square Garden.
Voracek and Wayne Simmonds notched power-play scores for the Flyers, while Ilya Bryzgalov stopped just 16 pucks in defeat. The loss dropped Philly below .500 (11-12-1) for the season and also allowed the Rangers to move one point ahead of the Flyers for the eighth and final playoff seed in the East.
"Not good, we're not good," said Bryzgalov when asked how he'd sum up his club at the midway point. "Obviously, we're not where we want to be. And the farther it is gonna be is going to be more ugly. This is the reality."
The Flyers may not be where they want to be in the standings, but that's certainly not the fault of Voracek or Simmonds, who have scored seven and six goals, respectively, over the last seven games.
On the injury front for Philadelphia, defenseman Nicklas Grossmann is day-to- day after suffering a hip injury in Tuesday's loss to New York.
Pittsburgh is 9-4-0 as the road team this season, while the Flyers are 7-3-1 at Wells Fargo Center.