By Dan Majka
PITTSBURGH (CBS) — Few rivalries in all of sports can rival the one between the Flyers and Penguins. That was evident again on Sunday in Philadelphia’s 6-4 win over Pittsburgh.
With the cross-state foes a likely first-round match-up in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Flyers and Penguins are battling for home-ice advantage, with each team looking to deliver the same message to the other.
We won’t go down without a fight.
Or — as was the case on Sunday — a brawl.
Shortly after Jakub Voracek’s empty net goal cemented the victory for the Flyers late in the contest, Penguins forward Joe Vitale leveled Danny Briere with a big hit near center ice triggering a melee on and off the ice.
At the same time all ten players on the ice were scrapping, the players and coaches from both teams were on the benches screaming at each other across the glass.
At one point, a heated Peter Laviolette smashed a stick over the glass, and then he and Pittsburgh assistant coach Tony Granato stood on the boards yelling back and forth. Both coaches were ejected from the game.
While the hit appeared to be legal, the Flyers head coach took exception to Penguins counterpart Dan Bylsma sending out his checking line after the outcome had been decided.
“Those guys hadn’t been out there in twelve minutes,” Laviolette said. “It’s a gutless move by their coach. It’s gutless.”
Bylsma defended Vitale’s hit on Briere, saying it was clean, but claimed otherwise about Brayden Schenn’s crosscheck to the back of Penguins star Sidney Crosby shortly after Steve Sullivan’s second goal of the game pulled Pittsburgh within 5-3 late in the third period.
“It’s clearly a cheap shot,” Bylsma said. “It’s clearly a guy targeting a player that was well after the whistle.”
Crosby agreed that he was the recipient of a cheap shot, but argued that wasn’t the case with Briere.
I’m sure their coach doesn’t like seeing a top player on their team get hit like that, but it’s a clean hit,” said Crosby. “Maybe you shouldn’t have put him out there, but it’s a clean hit.”
Not lost in all of the late game drama was the Flyers’ resiliency.
After falling behind 2-0 for the sixth time in the last nine games, Philadelphia rallied with the next five goals of the contest, a comeback sparked by Claude Giroux’s 28th tally of the season late in the first period.
Former Penguin Max Talbot knotted the game at two in the second period, and then Wayne Simmonds gave the Flyers the lead for good with a power play goal early in the third.
Jakub Voracek added a pair of scores, including the empty netter, and rookie defenseman Marc Andre Bourdon notched his third goal of the season.
Flyers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky started his third consecutive game in place of the injured Ilya Bryzgalov and made 43 saves.
“It was a good battle,” Scott Hartnell said. “Being down 2-0 and to come back and win, it was huge.”
The win pulled the Flyers to within a single point of the Penguins who still sit in fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
And while Philadelphia undoubtedly wants to pass Pittsburgh in the standings and secure the home-ice advantage for their potential opening round playoff series, the Flyers notably have a franchise-best 25 road wins this season and they’re a perfect 5-0 all-time at the CONSOL Energy Center.
That’s exactly where the Flyers and Penguins will meet again on Saturday in the regular season finale – a game that could very well determine which side of Pennsylvania these bitter rivals will skate when the playoffs begin.