Philadelphia Flyers rallied for an important victory that puts them in a much better position to claim home-ice advantage in a potential playoff series with rival Pittsburgh.
In a cross-state series, the Flyers' biggest edge might be their ability to win on the road, as they did by surging back from an early two-goal deficit to beat the Penguins 6-4 Sunday.
Wayne Simmonds' fifth goal in three games early in the third period gave Philadelphia its first lead, and Jakub Voracek added an insurance goal -- his second of the day -- during the Flyers' four-goal third period as they improved to 5-0 in Consol Energy Center, including two wins this season. The longtime rivals meet there again Saturday in a game that could decide home-ice advantage for their likely Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series.
Pittsburgh's third loss in four games means the New York Rangers will win the Atlantic Division title and secure the top seed in the Eastern Conference by picking up one point in their final three games. And the Flyers, by bouncing back from a 4-3 shootout loss to the Senators on Saturday, closed to within one point of the Penguins, 102-101, for fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Given the Flyers' proven ability to win in Consol, perhaps they wouldn't mind opening what would be their third playoff series against Pittsburgh in five seasons right there. As Scott Hartnell said, Consol just isn't as intimidating to them as the now-demolished Civic Arena, the steel-roofed building known as the Igloo where the Penguins played through the 2009-10 season.
"This is a much different building than the Igloo," Hartnell said. "You were almost scared coming into the Igloo, people were right on you. And how dumpy the place was, it was tough. I think it's good we have the confidence to play here. We know in our hearts and our heads we can beat these guys."
And just think -- there might be eight more games between these two can't-stand-each-other teams in the next three weeks. As the game wound down, there were three separate groups of players yelling, fighting or shoving each other on the ice as Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant Tony Granato screamed at each other as they stood feet apart on the dasher boards.
The Penguins weren't happy that Brayden Schenn appeared to cross-check Sidney Crosby in the back as the two headed to their benches after Steve Sullivan's second goal of the game for Pittsburgh. Laviolette eventually became so incensed that Penguins forward Joe Vitale put a hard hit on Danny Briere, he broke one of Maxime Talbot's sticks, causing a piece to fly into the Penguins' bench.
"A few fights squared off and there are emotions in games and sometimes they go overboard," Hartnell said. "Lavvy lost it there for a second."
A total of 52 penalty minutes resulted from the fracas, with Zac Rinaldo of Philadelphia and Arron Asham drawing game misconducts.
Just another Flyers-Penguins game.
"The battle of Pennsylvania," Simmonds said. "I've only been here for one season and it's a heated rivalry. We expect it any time you play them."
It's also becoming evident the Flyers don't expect to lose. They are 4-1 against the Penguins this season, and they ended the Penguins' NHL season's-best 11-game winning streak by also rallying from a two-goal deficit for a 3-2, last-second overtime win on March 18.
"The playoffs are coming and I'm not going to back down and obviously they're a good team," said Claude Giroux, who had a goal and two assists. "We respect their players but, at the same time, we've got to be hard on them."
Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik isn't about to concede any Philadelphia dominance.
"It's just one game," he said. "It's a good hockey team we lost to, but we can play better."
Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, forced to make 28 saves in the first two periods and 43 overall, also improved to 5-0 in Consol despite giving up early goals to Sullivan and James Neal.
Goals by Giroux and Talbot tied it and shifted the momentum, and the Flyers overwhelmed the Penguins in the decisive third period.
Simmonds scored the most important goal, skating hard to the edge of the crease so he could control a rolling puck and one-time it past Fleury on a power play 2:35 into the third for his 27th of the season. Chris Kunitz was off for interference.
Jakub Voracek scored slightly more than four minutes later on a backhander from the slot, during an offensive rush created by Braydon Coburn's stretch pass. Marc-Andre Bourdon made certain that Sullivan's second goal would prove meaningless by scoring at 13:15, and Voracek -- who also set up Simmonds' goal -- scored again at 18:45 just before the late-game melee started.
Defenseman Zbynek Michalek blamed the Penguins' breakdown on numerous turnovers in the neutral zone by a team that kept gambling defensively even while up by two goals.
"We can't turn the puck over in the neutral zone, and we can't take penalties because they have good offensive players who if they have a chance will score goals," Michalek said. "We have to be better managing the puck."
Philadelphia has picked up points in 10 games this season in which it has fallen behind by two goals, including its last two games.
"Once it was 2-0, our guys really fought. They fought," Laviolette said. "I don't think there was any doubt or skepticism we could win the game. But it wasn't the start we were looking for."
Sullivan, who moved up to Crosby's line during the Penguins' 5-3 win at Buffalo on Friday, grabbed Crosby's pass from behind the goal line and threw a knuckleball-like shot past a slip-sliding Bobrovsky, who momentarily lost his balance and couldn't fully recover before the puck found the net at 1:14 of the first.
Pascal Dupuis picked up the other assist, extending his scoring streak to an NHL season-high 14 games (nine goals, 10 assists).
Neal made it 2-0 less than four minutes later with his 39th goal, pumping in a short-range shot from along the goal line off Evgeni Malkin's pass from behind the net. Malkin also picked up another assist on Kunitz's goal in the final minute, giving him a League-high 104 points.
Giroux got the Flyers back in it at 15:09 of the first with a wrist shot from the slot as Hartnell screened Fleury. Talbot was seen jawing with a couple of Penguins as the first period ended, and he came out and scored quickly to start the second by redirecting Rinaldo's shot from the right circle.
And there's a lot more to come.
"Guys were pretty emotional at the end of the game there," Giroux said. "Obviously it's going to be an interesting series."