PITTSBURGH, Pa. – The Philadelphia Flyers sent a message with their resiliency. The Pittsburgh Penguins sent one with their fists.
Message received on both sides.
And to think the playoffs don’t start for another 10 days.
Jakub Voracek scored twice in the third period to break open a tight game and lift the Flyers to a 6-4 victory on Sunday to climb within a point of Pittsburgh for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Whoever wins the fourth spot gets home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
The Flyers are 5-0 at Consol Energy Center since it opened in October, 2010 and after getting pushed around yet again by their archrivals, the Penguins appear to have had enough.
Just as notable as Philadelphia’s spirited rally from yet another two-goal deficit was the extended brawl with just over a minute to play that left the coaches of both teams screaming at each other across the glass.
Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette called out Pittsburgh counterpart Dan Bylsma for sending out his checking line shortly after Voracek’s empty-net goal pushed the lead to 6-3.
Penguins forward Joe Vitale levelled Daniel Briere shortly after the ensuing faceoff, starting a chain of events that included Laviolette smashing a stick over the glass and all 10 players on the ice going at it.
“Those guys hadn’t been out there in 12 minutes,” Laviolette said. “It’s a gutless move by their coach. It’s gutless.”
Bylsma didn’t quite see it that way, claiming Vitale’s shot on Briere was clean, unlike the crosscheck Pittsburgh star Sidney Crosby received from Brayden Schenn shortly after Steve Sullivan’s second goal of the game pulled the Penguins 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, who has missed all but 19 games this season due to concussion-like symptoms, agreed.
“It’s pretty cheap,” Crosby said. “He skates 10 feet in between the whistle. I don’t know. If that’s a sign of what’s to come it’s going to be a pretty tough playoff series.”
One that won’t even start until the teams meet again in the regular-season finale next Saturday.
Pittsburgh appeared on the verge of chasing down the New York Rangers for the top spot in the Eastern Conference a week ago.
Instead the Penguins have dropped three of four and lead the Flyers by the slimmest of margins with three games left.
Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux, Max Talbot and Marc-Andre Bourdon also scored for Philadelphia while Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 43 shots as the Flyers erased a 2-0 deficit against Pittsburgh for the second time in two weeks. Philadelphia got a point with an overtime victory on March 18.
No such dramatics were necessary this time. The Flyers dominated the final 20 minutes, beating Marc-Andre Fleury three times before Voracek’s empty-netter to deny Fleury in his bid to tie Tom Barrasso’s franchise mark of 226 career victories.
Giroux just smiled when asked if the Flyers were in the Penguins’ heads after another emotional comeback.
“I hope we are because we’re going to play them in the playoffs,” he said. “I think it’s important for us to be sure that they know it’s going to be a tough one and it should be pretty fun.”
And pretty physical, too.
The victory was an exclamation point for the Flyers, who have struggled during daytime games this season. Philadelphia came in with a 4-8-2 record when the puck is dropped before 3 p.m. local time.
Those numbers include a 4-3 shootout loss to the Senators on Saturday in which the Flyers fell behind 3-0 in the first period.
A day later, Philadelphia was no sharper.
The Penguins raced to a 2-0 lead in the first 5 minutes. Steve Sullivan scored his 16th of the season on a knuckled one-timer that deflected off a Philadelphia player and over Bobrovsky into the net.
There was no fortunate bounce necessary on Pittsburgh’s next score. James Neal collected his 39th on the season by parking himself on the doorstep then wristing a shot over Bobrovsky’s right shoulder thanks to a slick pass from Evgeni Malkin.
Yet just like Saturday, the Flyers rallied.
And unlike Saturday, this time they came all the way back thanks in part to an early timeout in which Laviolette reminded his players it was time to get going.
“You get that 2-0 lead for them they might think it’s going to be a cakewalk or going to be an easy game,” Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell said. “On the flip side, we get (ticked) off and play with an edge.”
Giroux gave Philadelphia life late in the first when his shot from the point squirted between Fleury’s pads. Hartnell didn’t receive an assist on the play, but he barrelled into Fleury, obstructing the goaltender’s view.
Talbot tied it at 2 early in the second period. The former Pittsburgh star—a key cog in the franchise’s 2009 Stanley Cup—deflected a shot past Fleury and the ensuing boos indicated not all of Pittsburgh’s vitriol is saved for Jaromir Jagr alone.
Simmonds—who scored on Saturday when a puck smashed off his face into the net—gave the Flyers their first lead in a more conventional fashion when he tapped in a pass from Voracek past Fleury 2:35 into the third period.
Voracek pushed the lead to 4-2 on a nifty backhand. When Bourdon’s slap shot from the point deflected off Pittsburgh defender Zbynek Michalek the Flyers had things well in hand.
NOTES: Philadelphia D Nicklas Grossman went to the dressing room with a lower body injury during a first-period collision with Pittsburgh’s Joe Vitale and did not return … Malkin finished with two points and has 104 on the season, tops in the NHL. … The Penguins play in Boston on Tuesday while the Flyers host the Rangers. … Pittsburgh’s Pascal Dupuis recorded the second assist on Sullivan’s goal to extend his points streak to 14 games, the longest in the NHL this season. … The Penguins are 6-4-1 since Crosby returned from concussion-like symptoms on March 15.