for this game

Flyers-Penguins Preview

Oct 6, 2010 - 8:20 PM

Philadelphia (0-0-0) at Pittsburgh (0-0-0), 7:00 p.m. EDT

After a playoff run that exceeded all expectations, the Philadelphia Flyers are hungry to finish what they started.

The Pittsburgh Penguins' postseason was a major disappointment, but the Flyers' Atlantic Division rivals are excited for their own new beginning.

The Flyers begin the defense of their surprising Eastern Conference crown Thursday night by helping open Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center, where Philadelphia hopes to end its recent woes within one of the NHL's fiercest rivalries.

The Flyers (41-35-6) didn't qualify for the playoffs until the final day of the regular season, but it turns out getting in was all they really needed. Seventh-seeded Philadelphia dispatched New Jersey in five games in the first round, then overcame a 3-0 series deficit against Boston in the conference semifinals - rallying from a 3-0 Game 7 deficit - to get to the East finals.

After cruising past Montreal in five games, the Flyers fell in six games to Chicago in the Stanley Cup finals - a disappointing end, but one that was still considered a remarkable accomplishment.

Philadelphia, which hasn't finished higher than third in the Atlantic in the past four seasons, is anxious to end this season hoisting the Cup rather than watching it paraded around its own ice.

"We have to get back to where we were," said forward Danny Briere, who led all playoff scorers with 30 points. "We were two wins away from our goal of bringing this city a Stanley Cup and that's the goal again. I think we have every element in place for that to happen."

The Penguins (47-28-7) believe the same, and they're no strangers to playing for hockey's ultimate prize. Pittsburgh lost in six games to Detroit in the 2008 Stanley Cup final, then knocked off the Red Wings in seven in 2009.

The fourth-seeded Penguins were the East's highest remaining seed in the second round this spring, but were stunned in a 5-2, Game 7 loss to Montreal, closing Mellon Arena with a thud.

That hasn't quelled optimism in Pittsburgh.

For the first time since their inception in 1967, the Penguins have a new home - and judging by the preseason, one that's already providing an edge. Pittsburgh outscored opponents 12-3 in winning all three games at Consol Energy Center, which sits across the street from Mellon.

"We just want to go out and make this our home and make it a home-ice advantage," coach Dan Bylsma said. "I can't wait to see this building full and energized and make it difficult for opponents to come into."

The Flyers have had difficulty wherever they've faced the Penguins recently. Pittsburgh is 9-3-0 against its in-state rivals over the past two seasons.

Sidney Crosby, who tied for the NHL lead with 51 goals last season, is certainly looking forward to the opener. He recorded eight goals and 11 assists in those 12 contests.

"Both teams are always at their best when we play each other - I think that's to be expected," Crosby said. "And throw in the fact that it's the first game of the season and the first game here at the arena, so it should be exciting and there should be no shortage of motivation."

The Penguins will be missing Jordan Staal, their third dynamic center behind Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, for perhaps a few months as the Selke Trophy finalist recovers from a foot infection.

The team's biggest offseason changes came at the blue line. The loss of power-play quarterback Sergei Gonchar was met with the signing of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek, who should combine with Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang to give Pittsburgh a formidable top four on defense.

Coach Peter Laviolette probably isn't nearly as confident in the Flyers' ability to control their own end. Goaltender Michael Leighton, who helped carry the team to the Cup finals after taking over in the second round for Brian Boucher, is expected to miss two weeks with a back injury, leaving Boucher as the starter.

Defenseman Chris Pronger has been a question mark all preseason as he recovers from offseason knee surgery. He's rarely practiced in the days leading up to the opener, but is expected to join new additions Andrej Meszaros, Sean O'Donnell and Matt Walker in Laviolette's defensive pairings Thursday.

Flyers forward Jeff Carter, the league's sixth-leading goal scorer over the past two seasons with 79, has nine goals and seven assists in his last 11 games versus Pittsburgh.