Sidney CrosbyHis drive to succeed was one of the defining characteristics of his 18-season NHL career.
And one of the biggest fuel providers for this inner engine comes when the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar center appears a few hundred miles to the east.
“It’s just a game you always feel like there’s more to it,” Crosby said this week of the Keystone State rivalry between the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. “I think that’s been the case for a long time.”
The final chapter of this rivalry will be written on Friday when the Penguins visit the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center at the 2022 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (5:30 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, TVAS).
One of the first seasons was a defining game in Crosby’s NHL career.
It was November 16, 2005, Crosby’s second game in Philadelphia. In his first game in town a month ago, he had a goal and an assist. But for this visit, Flyers defenseman Derian Hatcher made it a tougher experience for the 18-year-old rookie.
In the first period, Hatcher punched Crosby so hard in his mouth that he got angry, cut a few teeth and needed stitches in his lip. In the second period, Hatcher’s baton hit Crosby’s face again.
At no point was a penalty called, until Crosby’s complaints earned him a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“It’s part of the game,” Crosby said during the telecast. “It’s not the first time I’ve gotten a high stick, and it probably won’t be the last. … When he got his second and I ended up getting two minutes because I’m unsportsmanlike, it’s hard to handle. To get it once was enough. For him to run away.” With two like that, it’s a pity.”
Instead of frowning, Crosby is back in the best possible way. In the last minute of overtime, he picked up a great pass from Ryan Malone, skated alone past goalkeeper Antero Niitimaki and scored.
It was the first of Crosby’s 80 game-winning goals in an NHL game, including six against the Flyers—tied with Ryan Callahan and Jaromir Jagr for the most in the NHL by an opposing player against the Flyers since his rookie 2005-06 season.
Crosby credits that game for helping him understand how hard it is to work to succeed in the NHL.
“You expect it to be a tough game and that kind of thing,” he said. “So to get over that early and understand what it’s about and get through it helps when you get lessons like that early on.”
Crosby certainly put those lessons to good use against the Flyers.
His 51 goals tied Mario Lemieux for the most by an opposing player against the Flyers, and his 120 points are second only to Lemieux (124).
And his offense runs even deeper when the games are in Philadelphia, with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 39 games in the city. That’s more points than any other visiting player, and his 24 goals is tied for the most with the Lemieux and Washington Capitals forward. Alex Ovechkin.
Of his 24 Philadelphia goals, 23 came at the Wells Fargo Center (in 38 games) and he scored the first goal of the 2019 Stadium Series at Lincoln Financial Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
He scored 27 goals in Pittsburgh against the Flyers, 13 at Mellon Arena, 13 at PPG Paints Arena, and 1 goal during the 2017 Stadium Series at what was later called Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 27 goals tied Lemieux for most by a Pittsburgh Penguins player against the Flyers.
Crosby was equally deadly against the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins have won three of their four playoff series since Crosby entered the NHL, and he has more goals (15), assists (21) and points (36) than any player who skated against Philadelphia in the postseason.
The climax of the hate came during the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. After a physical Game 3 in Philadelphia featured Captain Crosby and the Flyers Claude Giraud Fighting in the first period, Crosby said, “I don’t like anybody on their team over there… I don’t like them, because I don’t like anybody on their team.”
The next game, the Flyers handed out T-shirts to fans that read “Guess what? We don’t like you either!”
However, that hostility has fueled Crosby, and his teammates expect more of the same when the Penguins visit the Flyers on Thursday.
“When he hears boos and stuff, when he gets a disc, knowing Syed, I think that helps him,” Brian Dumoulin He said. “Whether he’s having a good period, or a bad period, any time you hear that and he gets booed, people cheer against him, I mean, it must be amazing.”
NHL.com freelance reporter Wes Crosby contributed to this report