Come Monday, Ballard’s hit was burning up YouTube.
Ballard’s hit on Malkin was viewed more than 8,000 times by early Monday afternoon on the popular internet video site as was his fight shortly thereafter against Malkin’s teammate, Sidney Crosby.
“That was one of the better ones,” said Ballard, whose hip checks and fights have been posted on the site.
Ballard’s hit, which helped ignite the Panthers to a 4-2 victory over the Penguins and pushed them into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, was all the rage in the hockey world nearly as soon as it happened.
For Ballard, acquired from Phoenix at last year’s draft along with Nick Boynton for Olli Jokinen, it was another of what has become a signature hit…one that is rarely practiced anymore in the NHL.
“He’s a throwback,” said Panthers coach Peter DeBoer when talking about Ballard’s hip checks. “You don’t see too much of that anymore. It’s really an art form, especially with the speed of the guys in today’s game. To throw one of those in the 70s when a guy is coming at you is different than today. These guys are moving fast.”
Defenseman Bryan Marchment was notorious a decade ago for throwing out the hip (and, some would argue, the occasional knee). Don Awrey sent a few players sprawling in the 1960s.
But Ballard and San Jose’s Rob Blake are currently the most feared at sending a player, like Malkin, head over heels.
“The more you do it the more comfortable you get with it, and the more you can recognize when to do it and when it will work,” he said. “I’ve had my fair share of ones that weren’t timed very well. The guy cuts back in…it’s a lot of timing and knowing when to do it.”
Ballard’s timing lately has been impeccable. Two weeks ago in Philadelphia he sent Scott Hartnell flying with a hip check. After both checks against Malkin and Hartwell, Ballard was immediately engaged by the opposition. On Sunday it was Crosby. In Philadelphia, a scrum developed that resulted in his playing partner Nick Boynton serving four minutes for roughing.
“I had a pretty good idea someone was coming,” said Ballard, referring to his hit on Malkin. “I told (Boynton) - he wasn’t out there with me last night - but I wonder how many penalty minutes he’s gotten because of me hitting people.”
Ballard, who attended the University of Minnesota and was a first round draft pick (11th overall) in 2002 by the Sabres, said he became a more physical player when he wound up in Phoenix in 2005 after a season in the American Hockey League.
“When I got to Phoenix I started to play more physical,” he said. “It was something I wanted to try and do to make myself stick out a little bit more in camp and give myself a shot of making the team. It’s something I’ve kind of grown into.”
DeBoer said Ballard’s enthusiasm “is contagious.”
“He enjoys coming to the rink, he loves to play the game,” he said.
And, judging to his hits, others love watching him play.PLAYOFF WATCH
The Panthers have three games and five days to jump the Rangers for a playoff spot.
Although both the Panthers and Rangers have 89 points, the Rangers would win the first tie-breaker to get into the playoffs because they have more wins than the Panthers.
DeBoer said it’s pretty simple what the Panthers have to do in this final week of the regular season.
“We’ve just got to go out and win,” he said after Monday’s practice at IncredibleIce. “We’ve won four of our last five to put ourselves in the position we’re in…to put some pressure on New York. I hope they’re waking up this morning and feeling the heat, of must-win games down the stretch, which I’m sure they are, and that’s what we wanted to do a week ago, make sure we put that pressure on then and see how they deal with it.
“On our end, we have to take care of business and keep winning.”FLYERS HOPING TO CLINCH
The Flyers can clinch a playoff spot with a point Tuesday at home against the Panthers. The Flyers are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games. They’re 23-12-4 at home this season. The Panthers are 18-17-4 on the road.
Jeff Carter, who leads the NHL with 11 game-winning goals this season, has six goals in 15 games against the Panthers. Mike Richards, who has 30 goals this year, has not scored against the Panthers in 14 games. Simon Gagne, who has seven goals in his last 11 games, has 17 goals (28 points) in 31 games against Florida.
Goalie Martin Biron is 6-11-1 against the Panthers with an .897 save percentage and 2.75 goals against. Antero Niittymaki is 4-2 with a .935 save percentage and 2.03 goals against.
Goalie Tomas Vokoun is 4-4-2 lifetime against the Flyers with a .912 save percentage and 2.69 goals against.
Cory Stillman has 23 points (seven goals) in 33 games against the Flyers. Nathan Horton has five goals (nine points) in 17 games. Richard Zednik has nine goals in 33 games and Radek Dvorak has 21 points (10 goals) in 44 games against the Flyers. Defenseman Bryan McCabe has 29 points (five goals) in 46 games against Philly.
The Flyers are sixth in the league on the power play (the Panthers 24th), and ninth on the penalty kill (the Panthers are 10th). SCOREBOARD WATCHING
The Canadiens play host to the Senators, the Sabres welcome the Red Wings.
Tomorrow night, it’s the big ones. Montreal at the Rangers and the Panthers at Philadelphia.CROSBY ON PANTHERS
The Penguins Sidney Crosby has been in three fights in his NHL career, two coming against the Panthers this year. Before Sunday’s scrum against Ballard, Crosby went after Brett McLean Jan. 3.
“I don’t go into games looking to fight, that’s for sure,” Crosby said. “It just kind of happens. It’s just a coincidence. I don’t fight that much. To get two against one team is kind of weird, but it’s part of the game.”EVERBLADES IN PLAYOFFS
The Panthers’ East Coast affiliate, the Florida Everblades, who finished the season 49-17-5, will begin the Kelly Cup playoffs Friday when they play host to the Gwinnett Gladiators at Germain Arena in Estero.