PITTSBURGH -- The 400-kilometre stretch of Pennsylvania Turnpike between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia officially turned into a highway of bad blood at about 5:17 p.m. local time yesterday.
At that moment, when Marian Hossa's dramatic overtime goal sent the 17,172 loonies crammed into the Mellon Arena into a frenzy, the matchup for the 2008 Eastern Conference final became set.
And it will be a contest that features, to be blunt, two teams that despise each other.
The Pittsburgh Penguins versus the Philadelphia Flyers. Interstate rivals. Division rivals. Bitter rivals.
Sidney Crosby knows it. Minutes after Hossa's shot had eluded New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist at 7:10 of the first extra period to give the upstart Penguins a 3-2 win and a 4-1 victory in this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final, Sid the Kid's thoughts already had turned to The City of Brotherly Shove, a place where the fan base might very well loathe him more than anywhere else.
"The playoffs are always intense but it throws a little spice into it when it's Pittsburgh and Philadelphia," said Crosby, who finished the afternoon with a pair of assists.
"If you want a rivalry, there's one right there. I'm sure everyone's well aware of it."
Mike Richards certainly is.
A five hour drive to the east, Richards and his Flyers teammates in Philadelphia already were preparing to lock horns with the young, speedy Pens last night. Having eliminated the Montreal Canadiens in five games with a 5-4 win at the Bell Centre Saturday, the Flyers understand there is little time to bask in the glow of that victory, especially when the task at hand involves attempting to slow down, if not stop, Pittsburgh's dynamic duo of Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
"I think so," Richards said in a phone interview from the Philadelphia area. "In order to do that, we have to stay out of the penalty box. Discipline is something we have struggled with through the first two series but we have shown signs of getting better at it."
Richards knows the intensity will be at a season-high, both on the ice and in the stands.
"It's a division rival, the crowd is going to be energized, and the two buildings are going to be very loud," he said. "It's going to be tough. Every game we played them this year was a tough physical contest."
It will be especially that way for Crosby, who has stepped into the role of Public Enemy No. 1 for the leather-lunged, at-times cruel, Flyers fanatics. Crosby may wear No. 87 on his back but, as a local columnist once noted, in Philly he is "Hatey Seven."
The bitterness toward Crosby dates back to his first game at the rabid Wachovia Centre on Nov. 5, 2005. On that night, Sid the Kid lost a handful of teeth courtesy of Derian Hatcher's stick, was penalized for complaining to the officials, and was tagged with the reputation of being a diver.
Only in Philly does the "Sidney Crosby Sucks" forum on the Internet receive mention in the local papers. That is what is in store for him, not to mention another showdown with Hatcher, who is still on the Flyers roster.
Yet that in itself might not be enough for the Flyers to smother Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins captain has racked up 37 points in 20 career games against the Flyers, while Malkin has 24 points in 17 previous encounters.
Stopping the Penguins vaunted power play will be key. Pittsburgh went 5-for-23 (21.7%) with the man advantage against the Rangers, a significant reason for the Pens' success.
"(Pittsburgh's) special teams did us in," Lundqvist said.
Richards hopes he won't be saying the same thing in a couple of weeks.