PITTSBURGH - The Commonwealth Cold War begins Wednesday at Consol Energy Center.
And if this season's preliminary battles between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers are any indication, this series will be a physical battle that could propel the winner to the Stanley Cup Final. The two teams have met five times in the playoffs, with the Flyers winning the first three series and the Penguins the last two. The winner of three of the past four playoff series has reached the Final.
"We're just glad it's finally here and finally official," Penguins right wing Craig Adams said. "We knew for a while it would probably be us and them."
It's a series that has been set up by several subplots that played out during the past year.
Former Pens star Jaromir Jagr scorned Mario Lemieux and the Penguins during free agency last summer only to sign with the Flyers. He will hear his customary boos every time he touches the puck in Pittsburgh. Playing the Penguins clearly has Jagr feeling energized.
"I don't feel tired at all," said Jagr, 40. "I feel a lot better than I did before."
Pens stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are finally healthy after missing the playoffs last year and have lit up scoreboards this season.
Crosby has been a scoring machine since returning from injuries averaging 1.68 points per game, a career high, although he played in only 22 games because of recurring concussion symptoms. Malkin is a favorite for the MVP trophy after finishing with 50 goals and 109 points this season. The Penguins are 14-6-2 when the two have played together this season.
Yet most of the attention Crosby and Malkin have received during the past week is rooted in criticism sent their way from the Philadelphia coaching staff.
Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube recently called Crosby and Malkin "the two dirtiest players" on the Penguins, among many other unflattering comments.
"I think it's a little bit of fear and a little bit of jealousy, " said Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik when asked about the criticism his teammates have received. "Everyone has their own opinion. You just want the respect of your teammates. It's propaganda going into the playoffs, just trying to distract you from what really matters."
While winning four of the next seven games is what really matters, the hostility between the two franchises has always been significant. In 1989, Philadelphia goalie Ron Hextall attacked Penguins right wing Rob Brown; in 2009, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang claimed -- and showed proof -- that Flyers bad boy Scott Hartnell bit his finger.
And the bad feelings might be higher than ever.
"We don't like them," Crosby said. "They don't like us."
Hartnell, in fact, promised the series will be "a bloodbath."
"I'm sure hate will come out in this series," said Max Talbot, the former Penguins' cult hero who departed for the Flyers via free agency last summer. "It's going to be a hard battle. Intense hockey."
This article was written by Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE.