In 1967, the NHL enacted the biggest expansion in professional sports history, doubling its number of teams from six to 12. But as cities embraced their new teams, two franchises were destined for antagonism from their inception. The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins were immediate intrastate rivals. In the following years, they found many more reasons to hate each other than their proximity alone.
Consider the uglier periods in these teams’ spiteful histories, such as Pittsburgh going 42 games without a win on Philadelphia’s turf from 1974 through 1989. Philly fans still wince when they recall the Penguins’ improbable comeback win to defeat them in the 2009 playoffs, and Penguins fans feel the same about losing to the Flyers in 2012. In the back and forth, no love has been lost – but which team can claim to dominate the rivalry historically?
We determined to find out, studying the results of these teams’ meetings from their first game in 1967 to the conclusion of the 2016-17 season. We found which eras have been kind to each side, and who’s triumphed more often over time. To learn the definitive record of this bitter rivalry, keep reading.
Foes for 50 Years
For the first few years of each franchise’s existence, these rivals were equally matched, with no single side dominating the other consistently. But dynamics began to shift in the mid-’70s: 1973 was the last time these teams’ head-to-head win counts were even. Over the next two seasons, Philadelphia claimed back-to-back Stanley Cups and opened up a lead the Penguins have not closed yet. The win gap between teams widened in the ’80s, in which the Flyers made the playoffs in every season, and the Penguins endured their aforementioned dry spell in Philadelphia’s arena.
The ’90s were a much happier time to root for the Penguins, and while they didn’t make up much ground on their rival’s win total against them, the gap at least did not grow. Pittsburgh claimed Stanley Cups in ’91 and ’92 and made the playoffs every year from 1991 to 2001. More recently, the Sidney Crosby era has also brought its own pair of back-to-back championships for Pittsburgh, whereas the Flyers have not won a title since the ’70s. But for all the Penguins’ recent success, they still face a staggering record of losses to their rival: At the end of the 2017 regular season, the all-time win gap stood at 57 games.
Dominating the Decades
Our record of both teams’ top point scorers by decade should prompt nostalgia across Pennsylvania: Some of the game’s greatest have called Philadelphia or Pittsburgh home. Flyers fans may recall the tenacious Bobby Clarke, who accumulated 891 points in the ’70s on route to the team’s only two championships. Eric Lindros likewise excelled in the ’90s, including a sensational 115-point season in 1995-96. Current Flyers fans may not be surprised to see Claude Giroux topped the list for points since 2010. The captain’s history against the Penguins is quite distinguished, and he’s been particularly fond of beating up on Sidney Crosby.
On Pittsburgh’s end, the top scorers include some of the game’s true blue bloods. The 1980s belonged to the indomitable Mario Lemieux, who racked up 838 points in that decade. Lemieux actually inspired one of the only sweet moments in this team’s history, when his return from cancer treatments earned him a standing ovation from Flyers fans. Jaromir Jagr, who put up the most points for the Penguins in the ’90s, actually played with Flyers for a season later in his career, much to the chagrin of Philadelphians. Crosby, however, has owned this decade and the last, cementing his place among the greatest players ever to grace the ice.
The Keystone State Contest Continues
Although recent seasons have certainly seen more success for the Penguins than the Flyers, don’t count on this rivalry to stay lopsided for long. Philly is feeling hopeful about young prospects moving up through its farm system, and the injury-plagued Crosby isn’t getting any younger. More importantly, there’s no shortage of emotion between these teams that share a state. If history is the prologue, then we can wait to see the next chapter in this rivalry unfold.
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To compile the data presented in this project, we utilized information from hockey-reference.com, a database of historical statistics on the performance of NHL teams and players. We included information only from games in which the Flyers and Penguins competed against each other, dating from October 1967 through November 2017. No statistical testing was performed, so the claims listed above are based on raw win and points totals alone.