PHILADELPHIA – Steve Downie was the first of five Flyers suspended this season for vicious blows that earned them comparisons to the ol’ “Broad Street Bullies.” They were called dirty and put on notice by the league that one more infraction would result in stiff penalties.
Wow, how the season’s changed for Philadelphia. Now the first-place Flyers are the ones labelling a hit dangerous and deliberate – this one against Downie – and calling for a suspension.
Mike Knuble and Jim Vandermeer scored third-period goals to lift the Flyers to a 4-3 win over the Penguins on Thursday, their fourth win this season against their division rivals.
The Flyers are tied with New Jersey (59 points) for first in the Atlantic Division a year after they ended with the worst record in the NHL.
“That was a goal of ours all year,” said R.J. Umberger. “It’s a crucial time now.”
Evgeni Malkin scored his 27th goal for the Penguins in their first game since they learned reigning MVP Sidney Crosby will miss six to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain.
Downie, a rookie forward, and Penguins forward Georges Laraque each got game misconducts. Laraque earned his for drilling Downie from behind head first into the board late in the second period. Downie, who earned a 20-game suspension in September for a hit to the head, was tossed in the third for fighting moments after Knuble put the Flyers up 4-3.
Flyers coach John Stevens said Laraque met the league-mandated criteria for a suspension since the head was intentionally targeted.
“He knew what he was doing,” Stevens said. “That’s an extremely dangerous play and the league has obviously dealt with this enough this year that they know what they are doing.”
Umberger and Randy Jones also scored for the Flyers.
Petr Sykora and Ryan Whitney each scored for the Penguins.
The last game between the Pens and Flyers in Philly back in December saw a flurry of fights that sent both coaches into a post-game snit.
This one turned testy late in the second when Laraque slammed Downie into the corner. Downie, known for his hot temper, was lying on his back for a few minutes.
Downie said he saw Laraque coming right before the cross-check.
“I tried to reverse the puck and I got caught going in straight ahead,” Downie said. “He connected on me. I knew he was there and I went to reverse, peel out of the way and before I could do it, I was hit.”
Laraque earned a five-minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct. There was a skirmish in the corner while Downie was checked on and the crowd frothed for retaliation.
“It almost looked like he dove,” Laraque said. “He was laughing after it. Obviously, you know he was OK if he fought in the third. It was nothing intended, it wasn’t even a hit. I pushed him.”
Riley Cote tried to even the score after the faceoff with 2.6 seconds left and was whistled for a 10-minute misconduct for going after Ryan Malone.
“George doesn’t have a reputation to be a dirty player,” Penguins coach Michael Therrien said. “There’s a fine line between finishing off a check and guys on the offence turned around, a fine line. So I’m not going to comment on it.”
Vandermeer took advantage of the power play early in the third and slapped home his third goal of the season from just past the blue line, stunning goalie Ty Conklin.
The Penguins came right back only 58 seconds later and tied the score when Whitney crashed the net for a short-handed goal with teammate Jordan Staal in the crease and the net sliding back. The play was reviewed and the goal stood.
The fans barely had time to finish booing when Knuble poked in the puck 34 seconds later for his 16th goal and a 4-3 lead.
“Knuble was the only one who saw where it was and took a whack at it,” Conklin said. “They certainly went hard to the net, especially on the game winning goal.”
As soon as the goal was scored, Downie tangled with Stone. Downie earned five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct.
Each team scored a goal in the first two periods. Jones and Sykora each had goals in the second. Umberger and Malkin made it 1-1 at the end of the first.
Notes: Flyers RW Sami Kapanen played in his 800th career game. … Malkin has 16 goals in his last 16 games. … Vandermeer scored his first goal since Nov. 24 against Edmonton. … Umberger had his 100th career point.