Sidney Crosby‘s drive to succeed has been one of the defining characteristics of his 18-season NHL career.
And one of the biggest providers of fuel for that inner drive comes when the Pittsburgh Penguins superstar center looks a few hundred miles to the east.
“It’s just a game that always feels like there’s a little bit 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 latest chapter in that rivalry will get written Friday when the Penguins visit the Flyers at Wells Fargo Center in the 2022 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown (5:30 p.m. ET; TNT, SN, TVAS).
One of the first chapters was a defining game in Crosby’s NHL career.
It was Nov. 16, 2005, Crosby’s second game in Philadelphia. In his first game in the city a month earlier, 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 high-sticked Crosby in the mouth, leaving him furious, missing a few teeth and in need of stitches in his lip. In the second period Hatcher’s stick got Crosby in the face again.
No penalty was called either time, until Crosby’s complaints earned him a two-minute minor for unsportsmanlike conduct.
“That’s part of the game,” Crosby said during the TV broadcast. “It’s not the first time I got a high stick, probably won’t be the last. … When he got the second one and I ended up getting the two minutes for unsportsmanlike, it’s hard to deal with. To get it once was enough. For him to get away with two like that, it’s unfortunate.”
Rather than sulk, Crosby came back in the best possible way. In the final minute of overtime he took a breakout pass from Ryan Malone, skated alone on goalie Antero Niittymaki and scored.
It was the first of Crosby’s 80 game-winning goals in the NHL, 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 season of 2005-06 .
Crosby credits that game for helping him understand just how hard he was going to have to work to succeed in the NHL.
“You come in expecting it to be tough games and that sort of thing,” he said. “So to go through that early on and just understand what it’s all about and get through it, that helps when you get lessons like that early on.”
Crosby certainly put those lessons to good use against the Flyers.
His 51 goals are tied with Mario Lemieux for the most by an opposing player against the Flyers, and his 120 points are second to Lemieux (124).
His damage has cut even deeper when the games are in Philadelphia, with 57 points (24 goals, 33 assists) in 39 games in games in the city. It’s more points than any other visiting player, and his 24 goals are tied for the most with Lemieux and Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin.
Of the 24 goals in Philadelphia, 23 have come at Wells Fargo Center (in 38 games) and he scored the first goal of the 2019 Stadium Series at Lincoln Financial Field, home of the Philadelphia Eagles.
He has scored 27 goals in Pittsburgh against the Flyers, 13 at Mellon Arena, 13 at PPG Paints Arena, and one during the 2017 Stadium Series at what was then called Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers. The 27 goals are tied with Lemieux for most by a Penguins player in Pittsburgh against the Flyers.
Crosby has been just as deadly against the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins have won three of four playoff series between the teams since Crosby entered the NHL, and he has more goals (15), assists (21) and points (36) than any player who has skated against Philadelphia in the postseason.
The height of the antipathy came during the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. After a physical Game 3 in Philadelphia that featured Crosby and Flyers captain Claude Giroux fighting in the first period, Crosby said, “I don’t like any guy on their team there. … I don’t like them, because I don’t like any guy on their team.”
The following game, the Flyers gave out shirts to fans that read “Guess what? We don’t like you either!”
That animosity, however, has fueled Crosby, and his teammates expect more of the same when the Penguins visit the Flyers on Thursday.
“When he hears the boos and stuff, when he gets the puck, knowing Sid, I think that helps him,” defenseman Brian Dumoulin said. “Whether he’s having a good period, bad period, anytime you hear that and he’s getting booed, people are cheering against him, I mean, it’s got to be pretty cool.”
NHL.com independent correspondent Wes Crosby contributed to this report