Hit stokes Pens-Flyers rivalry

Pens forward Joe Vitale (top) scraps with Flyers' Harry Zolnierczyk during NHL action in Pittsburgh...

Pens forward Joe Vitale (top) scraps with Flyers' Harry Zolnierczyk during NHL action in Pittsburgh on April 7, 2012. (Jason Cohn/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:40 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - Pittsburgh Penguins forward Joe Vitale is public enemy number one in Philadelphia, according to the sports talk shows.

Vitale's clean and hard hit on Flyers forward Daniel Briere in the waning minutes of the second-to-last meeting between the two clubs touched off a wild finish to the game with a series of fights.

The emotion from that game has stoked the Penguins-Flyers rivalry and made the start of their first-round playoff series here tonight the most anticipated on the Stanley Cup schedule.

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said this morning he would have to go back to the 2009 playoffs when the Sidney Crosby-led Penguins met Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to find a series that had this much anticipation.

"I think it will be a hard fought battle, a lot of hits and a lot of intensity from both sides and a lot of goals. I think it should be a good series," said Vitale, the physical centre who will be expected to set the tone for the Penguins.

He said he wasn't paying attention to the attention he's receiving from the other side when told by a Philly reporter after the Penguins morning skate that he was considered Public Enemy Number One.

"It doesn't bug me one bit. I play a clean game, I play a hard game. If there are repercussions from that, so be it. I'm not going to change the way I play," he said.

Crosby, back in the playoffs after missing last season's because of his on-going concussion issues, has been a target for criticism from Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube ("he whines to the refs all day and all night) and commentators like NBC's Mike Milbury and CBC's Don Cherry.

Crosby said it's not anything he hasn't heard before.

"I don't really need any extra motivation to be honest with you. It's not anything that really changes the way I approach a game or anything like that. Those are tactics that I've seen for a long time way before I got to the NHL. Some things never change and that's one of them. I don't think that changes my mindset at all. If there is ever any extra incentive, you try and make the most of your opportuntities."

Crosby, who had six goals and 19 assists in the 14 games since his latest return from concussion issues, said he wasn't attaching any extraordinary significance to his return to the post-season.

"It feels good, but I don't think it feels too much different than it typically would," said Crosby. "Everyone works hard to get to this point. Yeah, I'm excited, but I don't think it feels any different than usual."

The Penguins were the highest-scoring team in the league in the regular season, but Crosby said the key in this series will be limiting the Flyers' chances.

"Both teams have a lot of depth up front and have shown they can score goals. Usually in the playoffs it's lower scoring, but you never know. For us, we want to make sure we're playing well defensively and we keep their goals to a minimum," he said.

"The fact that we played each other frequently down the stretch, I would expect it to be pretty intense."

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


Videos

Photos