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Hartnell's power-play goal ends Pens' streak at 12

by Dan Rosen /

PHILADELPHIA -- The parallel moods in the respective locker rooms inside Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night told you all you need to know about December in the NHL.

The Philadelphia Flyers could have been outwardly elated and nobody would have blamed them. After all, their 3-2 win in front of 19,824 snapped Pittsburgh's 12-game winning streak and gave them a one-point lead over the Penguins for first place in the NHL.

The Penguins could have shown their disappointment, their dejection. Hey, it was their winning streak, the talk of the League, which came to a shrieking halt.

None of that happened.

From Sidney Crosby to Scott Hartnell, Dan Bylsma to Peter Laviolette, the characters in this Keystone State rivalry were as calm, cool and collected as they were after their routine morning skates earlier in the day.

No need to crow and no reason to frown -- the next game is just around the bend. The flip-flop for first place could be back on Wednesday when the Penguins host the New York Rangers and the Flyers head to Montreal to battle the Northeast Division-leading Canadiens.

The only thing for certain right now is that Crosby, with two more assists to extend his point-scoring streak to 19 games, is still on fire. But, even that could change in less than 24 hours.

"We talk about trying to get the top spot, trying to be the best in the League, and tonight was one of those opportunities where we could do it ourselves," said an extremely pleased Flyers coach Peter Laviolette. "We didn't have to have help from anyone else, and it was great. Pittsburgh is playing really well and they played hard again tonight, so to get a win is nice. It puts you where you want to be, but you get to enjoy it for about three minutes and then move on and start thinking about Montreal. That's going to be a tough game."

Hartnell scored the winner on a power play midway through the third period by redirecting Chris Pronger's point shot over Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. The Flyers' power play had come up empty on its previous five tries, but Hartnell's goal was all they needed to grab first place in the Atlantic Division the Eastern Conference and the overall NHL standings.

Evgeni Malkin, playing for the first time in five games, scored a pair of game-tying power play goals, but the Penguins made the trek back across the state empty-handed.

"You never like losing and just because we won however many we won doesn't change that feeling, and I don't think it ever will," said Crosby, who has 20 goals and 18 assists during his streak. "You go out there and you work hard and you have an objective in mind to win a game and you don't -- so no, it's not a good feeling. Luckily for us we have a game (Wednesday) night so we can look to respond."

The Flyers had the better first period, and Crosby admitted the Penguins were chasing for the rest of the game. It didn't help that they gave the Flyers six power-play opportunities, including three after Malkin's goal 8:23 into second period and two more in after he scored 3:18 into the third.

Philadelphia finally connected when, of all people, Malkin was in the box for an interference minor on Jeff Carter.

Hartnell gained position in front of Fleury by outmuscling defenseman Brooks Orpik. He managed to work his stick free and get a piece of Pronger's low shot for the winning goal 9:54 into the third period. Hartnell said the puck struck something (perhaps a Penguins' player) on its way over Fleury's left shoulder.

"I missed one early, an empty net on a rebound and was lucky enough to get it back," said Hartnell, who did fire a backhand over a wide-open net about 10 minutes into the second period.

The Flyers closed it down for the rest of the way, allowing Pittsburgh only one shot in the final 10 minutes. Philadelphia was credited for 11 blocked shots in the third period, including six after Hartnell scored. It also killed off a power play in the final three minutes.

"It would have been nice if we would have buried one to make it 4-2, but instead we take the penalty for drama points and to make it a nail biter for the fans," said Flyers goalie Brian Boucher, who made 21 saves for his third consecutive win in as many starts. "But it was a great kill there at the end. The guys did a great job. It was a great effort by everybody."

The Penguins' problem was obvious.

"We got some big (penalty) kills during the game, it's just that last one hurt us," Fleury said. "One too many."

Although disappointed with the loss, the Penguins were not rattled. Crosby went as far as saying the loss could be good for the team.

"Sometimes you need that," he said when asked if it was a strange feeling to lose. "It's not like you go into games hoping to lose, but there were a few times we didn't play great and we ended up finding a way to win. Tonight we played a good team that made us pay for not starting well."

If this were April he probably wouldn't have had the same type of businesslike reaction. But in December, in the middle of the regular-season grind, you have no choice but to look ahead -- win or lose.

"It was a big hockey game. We needed our guys to step up and compete and play a hard fought game against a very good hockey team. They did and they got the two points," he said. "I think where you can get confused is if you let your guard down and take a deep breath. We're about to load the plane, head up to Montreal and they're sitting there waiting for us, probably licking their chops, looking to get a piece of us. The work will continue."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl

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