PITTSBURGH — Early Tuesday afternoon, outside of the visiting dressing room at PPG Paints Arena, four guys inside one of hockey’s fiercest rivalries engaged in a similar conversation to ones that many Pittsburghers have had over the last couple of days.
After the Philadelphia Flyers finished up their morning skate, one Penguins forward on his way out of the building bumped into three familiar faces — two skaters and one staffer from the Flyers. Their small talk soon turned to whether Sidney Crosby was going to get his 500th career goal against the Flyers that night.
The consensus? No way Crosby wouldn’t bury that dagger against the Flyers.
One even went as far as to joke that instead of putting the puck in his trophy case, Crosby would sign it and have it delivered to the Flyers’ dressing room.
Fittingly, Crosby would indeed score No. 500 against the hated Flyers — his first and longest-standing rivals in the NHL — Tuesday night at PPG Paints Arena.
With the Penguins on the power play in the first period, Crosby was parked in his favorite spot just off the right post. Evgeni Malkin, his sidekick throughout much of his 17 seasons, threaded a gorgeous pass to him through three Flyers.
Crosby pulled it in, dropped that left knee and snapped a shot over Carter Hart’s left shoulder and under the crossbar with 3:26 remaining in the period.
The four other skaters on the ice, led by Jake Guentzel, swarmed Crosby. And as the celebration drifted over to the boards, the Pittsburgh bench cleared. The PPG Paints Arena crowd, fired up even before the puck dropped, went wild.
“It feels good. I’ve been trying to get it here for a little bit,” Crosby said during the first intermission. “But it’s nice to get it. It’s great to be at home to get it.”
Penguins fans chanted his name on and off for the rest of the period, much like they did at the old Civic Arena after his first NHL goal back in October 2005.
He is the 46th player in NHL history to hit the 500-goal mark, a list featuring former Penguins such as Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis and Mark Recchi.
The Penguins are one of only six NHL franchises to have two players score 500 goals with that team. The other Penguin was Crosby’s former landlord, Lemieux.
While his most memorable goals include the Golden Goal in the 2010 Olympics and his snowy shootout winner in the inaugural Winter Classic, Crosby is better known as an expert playmaker and the leader of three Stanley Cup winners.
This season, Crosby once again leads all Penguins forwards in assists even though he missed a dozen games while recovering from wrist surgery or COVID-19.
Last month, he started speeding toward his 500th goal, scoring eight times in 10 games. He buried No. 499 last Tuesday in Boston. But despite firing 10 total shots in Ottawa and New Jersey, Crosby couldn’t finish for that milestone goal.
Like something out of a Hollywood film, he got it against a team that has literally pulled blood, sweat and tears out of him — plus some of his best hockey.
The animosity began early in Crosby’s rookie year, in his second career game in Philadelphia. Crosby, 18 at the time, took a stick to the chops from bruising Flyers blue-liner Derian Hatcher. Crosby would get the last laugh that night by scoring the breakaway winner, with a couple of chipped teeth, during overtime.
Three years later, Crosby pushed the Penguins to their first ever playoff series win over the Flyers. The Penguins crushed their playoff hopes again the following spring on the way to the first of their three Stanley Cup titles in the Crosby era.
Even as many of the faces changed on both sides of the rivalry, particularly on the Flyers, the hard feelings between Crosby and the Philly faithful lingered.
“I don’t like them,” he quipped in 2012. “I don’t like any guy on their team.”
The Penguins have taken three of four playoff series against the Flyers since hitting the Crosby lottery in 2005. And ever since that famous clash with Hatcher and the Flyers 17 years ago, Crosby has relished being one of the most hated humans in Philadelphia, seemingly finding another gear when facing the Flyers.
That disdain was evident even in the moments leading up to Tuesday’s goal.
First, Crosby got shoved into the Philadelphia goal by Ivan Provorov. A few shifts later, Crosby got dumped by Justin Braun, another Flyers defensemen. Then when Braun cross-checked Guentzel from behind in the slot, Crosby went after him.
When the dust settled, the Penguins got a power play and Crosby made the Flyers pay yet again. The goal put the Penguins up, 2-1, late in the first period.
Crosby has more goals against the Flyers than he has against any other team. And he leads all active NHLers in career goals and points versus Philadelphia.
By scoring against the Flyers, the 34-year-old became the 18th player in the NHL’s expansion era, which dates back to 1967, with 50 goals against one team.