When the Flyers take on the cross-state rival Penguins on Saturday night in a Stadium Series game at Heinz Field, normally the home to the NFL’s Steelers, defenseman Andrew MacDonald knows what emotions his teammates, especially the ones who will participate in their first outdoor game, will be feeling.
“It’s special,” MacDonald said after a recent home game this month. “It was a tremendous experience.”
MacDonald, who played for the Islanders in the 2014 game against the Rangers at Yankee Stadium, recalled how he thoroughly enjoyed the day before the game when the team held a practice and then the truly special moments as he took a few laps around the rink with his family during a family skate.
The day of the game exceeded his expectations as he consumed the pageantry, atmosphere, 50,000 fans in attendance and the action on the ice that night in the Bronx.
Close to 70,000 fans are expected to fill up Heinz Field, which will be buzzing with events before and during the game.
“Walking toward the ice, it’s a long walk from the dressing room and you have that adrenaline rush and special feeling when get out there,” said MacDonald, who played a team-high 24 minutes in the 2-1 loss. “You try and treat it as a normal game but you quickly realize it’s not. You do your best to settle in and try not to let the magnitude of the stadium take over. I think everyone is looking forward to it and it will be an important game for us, too.”
It is indeed.
The Flyers went into Thursday night’s games three points behind the Islanders for the last wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference with 22 games remaining the regular season. Needless to say, every point is crucial for the Flyers, who are just 9-15-4 since their 10-game winning streak ended in December.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh owns the third-best record in the league and is 6-1-3 in its last 10 games.
“It's a big two points for us,” said captain Claude Giroux, who played in the Flyers’ 2-1 loss at the Winter Classic in 2010 against the Bruins at Fenway Park and in the 3-2 loss in 2012 at Citizen’s Bank Park against the Rangers. “We are playing a good team but our focus is going to be on the two points.”
Defenseman Mark Streit agreed with MacDonald’s advice that the Flyers need to have tunnel vision and only concentrate on the Penguins.
“We can’t get carried away by the event or the people or whatever it is,” said Streit, who will play in his first outdoor game. “It’s a 60-minute hockey game and it’s going to be outdoors, but we need to find a way to win.
"That is all that matters.”