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In likely playoff preview, Pens, Flyers get heated

Sunday, 04.01.2012 / 6:09 PM / NHL Insider

By Alan Robinson - NHL.com Correspondent

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In likely playoff preview, Pens, Flyers get heated
Tensions came to the surface late in the Flyers' win against the Penguins Sunday, showing the rivalry is as strong as ever.


PITTSBURGH -- Flyers coach Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant Tony Granato stood only a few feet apart atop the dasher boards, nasty words flying between them, as three separate skirmishes broke out on the ice.
 
Sidney Crosby didn't like being cross-checked in the back by Brayden Schenn during a stoppage in play. Laviolette didn't like how Penguins coach Dan Bylsma responded by sending out some of his hardest hitters, resulting in a big hit on diminutive Flyers forward Danny Briere during a game already decided.
 
The Flyers and Penguins traded goals, a few swings and a lot of colorful language Sunday during a 6-4 victory by Philadelphia that drew the Flyers within a point of Pittsburgh as the in-state rivals chase home-ice advantage for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
 
The two are almost certain to face each other in the opening round -- and the teams could decide that home-ice edge when they meet in a season-ending rematch Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
 
"It's April right now -- it's playoff hockey and really intense," said forward Maxime Talbot, who switched sides from the Penguins to the Flyers after last season. "I know everyone's trying to get a little fire [going] but things happen. It's two teams going after it and fighting for the same thing."
 
Fighting for fourth place. Literally.
 
"Any time the Flyers and Penguins play, it's an emotional game," Penguins defenseman Zbynek Michalek said.
 
Wayne Simmonds, who scored the first and most important of the Flyers' four goals in the third period, said they should call this rivalry "The Battle of Pennsylvania."
 
The Penguins became unhappy when, down 5-3, Schenn took what Crosby called "a cheap shot" as both skated off the ice following Steve Sullivan's goal with 4:42 remaining. Not long after that, Briere was hit hard by Joe Vitale while carrying the puck.
 
Pittsburgh's explanation for the ensuing fracas?
 
"Clearly a cheap shot [on Crosby] and clearly a guy targeting a player well after the whistle," Bylsma said.
 
Philadelphia's explanation?
 
"Those guys [Pittsburgh's big hitters] hadn't played out there in 12 minutes, and it was a gutless move there by their coach. It was gutless," Laviolette said.
 
The Flyers didn't object to Vitale's hit as much as they did to Bylsma putting tough guys Vitale, Arron Asham, Deryk Engelland and Craig Adams -- hardly a scoring combination -- together late in a game in which Pittsburgh trailed.
 
"We were just trying to finish the game," Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik said. "It was a good hit (by Vitale) and a bit of an overreaction by them. It wasn't dirty, their guy didn't get hurt and got right back up."
All 10 skaters wound up being penalized, with the Flyers drawing 27 penalty minutes to the Penguins' 25. During the confrontation, an incensed Laviolette broke one of Talbot's sticks, sending a piece flying into the Pittsburgh bench and setting off Granato.
 
Talbot joked that he wasn't happy sacrificing a stick to Laviolette's temper.
 
"He actually took my stick and broke my stick and I was kind of upset about that. It was a good stick.
But things happen out there," Talbot said. "I can understand Lavvy's reaction a little bit.'
 
Even if the Penguins didn't.
 
"If you know Lavvy at all, you know he's emotional -- that's probably his biggest attribute when he's coaching. In practices during games, he gets fired up, he gets involved, just like he was playing," forward Scott Hartnell said. "That's a case where he was fired up. He didn't like who the Penguins put out and it's good to see."
 
Guess what? There might be as many as eight more Flyers-Penguins games to see before the Eastern Conference Semifinals begin.
 
"If that's the sign of what's to come, we're in for a pretty tough playoff series," Crosby said.
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