By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — You would have sworn Dave “The Hammer” Schultz was out there skating—and fighting again. Out there with Bob “The Hound” Kelly. And Andre “Moose” Dupont. And Don “Big Bird” Saleski. For the first 20 minutes on Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Flyers engaged in a time warp that sucked today’s version of hockey with them, back to the NHL’s wild-west days of the 1970s. Back when the no-holds-barred, barroom brawling brand was the norm and ice hockey seemed to be just a small part of the game.
Pittsburgh and the Flyers combined for 18 penalties and 72 penalty minutes in the first period (40 for Pittsburgh and 32 for the Flyers), triggered by a panicked Penguins’ team watching their season slowly dissolve. The Flyers braved the flying fists, crosschecks, and girly taunts by shameless, pouting Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby for an 8-4 victory.
The Flyers now have a chance to sweep the Penguins in Game 4 of the NHL’s Eastern Conference quarterfinals on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center after taking a commanding 3-0 series lead with Sunday’s victory.
Danny Briere, Matt Read and Max Talbot all tallied two goals each for the Flyers, who received insurance goals by Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux. The combined 20 goals the Flyers have scored are the most they’ve ever scored in the first three games of any playoff series, with six of the 20 goals scored by rookies.
“I thought the first two games in Pittsburgh were crazy, but this one was even wilder,” Briere said. “Once again, coming out on top is really a good feeling. They certainly have a team that can come back and they’re a dangerous team and the goal is to close it out on Wednesday. We don’t want them to hang around and get some confidence. Our goal is try to finish them right away. At the same time, we know they’re going to be desperate and are going to be a lot tougher.”
When the fisticuffs was broached, especially between Giroux and Crosby, the best two players on each team, it caused Briere to smile.
“It was entertaining, but at the same time, it’s something you don’t like to see too often, it’s a good tradeoff, the two best players on each team,” Briere said.
Though the Penguins scored the game’s first goal (no surprise there), it was the Flyers that took a rare first-period lead, 4-2. In an interesting twist in this wacky, fun-filled series, some trends were reversed, like Penguins’ coach Dan Bylsma calling a first-period timeout and spewing invective at his team during a tantrum, as opposed to what Flyers’ coach Peter Laviolette was forced to do in the first period of Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins, however, never responded.
If anything, Pittsburgh had already lost all semblance of discipline, getting whistled for nine penalties including a five-minute match penalty by former Flyer Arron Asham for nailing Brayden Schenn in the neck with a crosscheck.
Penguins’ shell-shocked goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was pulled after surrendering six goals in the first two periods. Brent Johnson, Fleury’s replacement, promptly gave up a goal on the first shot he faced, from Giroux, who scored his fourth goal of the series.
The Penguins were in full retreat after the first period. Regardless of how much prodding Bylsma attempted, he stood behind a team that leaned over the boards and realized they could do little against the Flyers. The dejected row of vacuous stares from the Penguins said it all.
But their star, Crosby, maintained the Penguins were composed.
“I don’t think we lost our cool,” Crosby said. “There were a lot of things going on out there, and that’s the result you get. There’s more than one team getting into those things. You can say we got frustrated, we didn’t. We know what we have to do, we just have to do it more consistently. We’ve made mistakes that have hurt us. We know what we need to do. We have to go out and win a hockey game. We’re getting outscored, but there is not an explanation for some of the things that are happening. No one is quitting here.”
Evgeni Malkin, probably the NHL’s MVP, has continued to be a non-factor. Part of that is a credit to the excellent play of Sean Couturier, who took a vicious hit by James Neal and was on the ice for several minutes with 5:20 left in the game. Part of that is on Malkin, who hasn’t scored a goal in 10 shots through the three games.
The memorable game took a circuitous route in the last five minutes. Neal’s hit on Couturier sparked another host of melees, and the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell stirred the rambunctious Flyers’ crowd by raising his arms after some wrestling against hair-pulling Craig Adams.
As the last seconds ticked away, Flyers’ fans serenaded the Penguins with the chant, “You can’t beat us, you can’t beat us.”
The Pittsburgh bench was considerably thinner by then. The teams had combined for 35 penalties and 133 minutes in the box. And you just knew the Hammer, Hound, Moose and Big Bird were somewhere grinning.