PHILADELPHIA - Fists were flying faster than shots on goal. Sidney Crosby and Claude Giroux even became knotted in the pushing, pulling and shoving, a pair of superstars willing to mix it up to prove which team was the baddest on the ice and the scoreboard.
The Penguins and Flyers talked trash, laid the smack down, and played one wildly entertaining game. The result was still the same. The Flyers rallied from another early deficit for a decisive Game 3 victory that placed them on the brink of an improbable sweep.
Danny Briere, Matt Read and Max Talbot each scored two goals to lead Philadelphia to an 8-4 victory over Pittsburgh on Sunday in a fight-filled game in the Eastern Conference quarterfinal.
Giroux and Wayne Simmonds also scored to help the Flyers take a 3-0 lead in the combustible best-of-seven series. Game 4 is Wednesday night in Philadelphia. The Flyers scored 20 goals in the first three games.
"Our goal is to finish it right away," Briere said.
The goals might be hard to find on a highlight reel. This one was all about the brawls more suitable for a UFC card. Three players were tossed in the first period. There was a rare fight between superstars when Crosby squared off against Giroux.
No one got the better end of that scrap. But by the end, Flyers fans serenaded the Penguins with booming chants of "You can't beat us!"
"All three games were kind of weird games," Giroux said. "I guess I like weird games because we always finish by winning."
Jordan Staal and James Neal scored twice for a Penguins team pushed to the limit by its hated, intrastate rival. Marc-Andre Fleury was benched after allowing six goals in two periods. He has allowed a whopping 17 goals in the first three games.
Coach Dan Bylsma said Fleury would start, "the next four games."
Hard to imagine at this rate, especially with NHL scoring leader Evgeni Malkin (109 points) yet to score a goal for the Penguins.
The Flyers played a post-season video that billed their run as the "Fight to the Cup." They never expected a first period that would have left those old Broad Street Bullies smiling.
Each team had their top defenceman—Pittsburgh's Kris Letang and Philadelphia's Kimmo Timonen—tossed. So was Penguins forward Arron Asham.
But the scene ripped straight out of the pages of Ripley's came when Giroux and Crosby went at it against the backboard.
"In the end, that's really playoff hockey," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "A couple of the best players in the world dropping the gloves going at it. Would I rather have G keep his gloves on? Sure. But when he's fighting Sidney Crosby, that's playoff hockey. That's this series."
Crosby ignited the scrum when he twice jabbed goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's glove against the ice. Giroux, third in the NHL in points this season, shoved Crosby from behind. Crosby, clearly not caring about his history of concussions, retaliated by shoving Giroux's head against the glass.
While the 20,092 fans dressed in their matching Hulk Hogan-inspired orange T-shirts roared, Timonen and Letang exchanged shots, and Voracek and Pittsburgh's Steve Sullivan each were penalized for roughing.
Timonen and Letang were both hit with 5 minutes for fighting and were ejected because they were assessed a major penalty after the original fight had started.
Crosby insisted the Penguins weren't getting rattled.
"There's more than one team getting in those things," he said. "You can make a story all you want about us getting frustrated. They're doing the same things we are. It's intense."
The on-ice violence was just warming up.
Flyers forward Brayden Schenn rammed Paul Martin into the boards, turned around and was crosschecked in the upper body by Asham. Asham jumped a defenceless Schenn and connected with a vicious right to earn the match penalty—a penalty imposed on a player who deliberately attempts to injure or who deliberately injures an opponent in any manner. Asham could get suspended for the punch.
As the game wound down, Crosby yanked the back of Scott Hartnell's jersey and the fireworks went off again. Simmonds, Neal and Pittsburgh's Craig Adams also were socked with penalties.
The slugfest on the ice overshadowed the one on the scoreboard.
Staal scored only 3:52 into the game to give the Penguins the first goal for the third straight game. It marked the 13th time out of the last 15 games the Flyers have trailed 1-0. At that point, the Flyers had been outscored 7-1 in the first period in this series.
The Flyers rallied from a 3-0 hole in Game 1, and deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 in Game 2.
They did it again. Talbot tapped a rebound toward Fleury that the Penguins goalie tried to stab at with his glove. The puck trickled by for the tying goal.
Briere scored consecutive goals off a 5-on-3 power play and a one-timer to leave Fleury reeling.
"I thought the first two games in Pittsburgh were crazy," he said. "This one was even wilder."
Neal scored the first of his two goals to make it 3-2. Read ended the period when he snagged the puck behind the net, skated around and buried it for a 4-2 lead.
Crosby and Bryzgalov jawed at each other as the teams skated toward the locker room.
Philadelphia's lead stood even as the 108-point Penguins attacked with their offence instead of their fists in the second period.
Neal and Read swapped goals to open the second. Staal knocked in a rebound to help the Penguins close to 5-4.
Simmonds, though, took a perfect entry pass from Braydon Coburn and backhanded in the fast-break attempt for the insurance goal. That was their third power-play goal and the Flyers also had a short-handed score.
The Penguins were assessed 46 penalty minutes, and the Flyers 34, through the first two periods.
"I don't like them, because I don't like any guy on their team," Crosby said.
Fleury, having a series to forget, was replaced by Brent Johnson to open the third. New goalie, same result. Giroux scored 27 seconds into the third on Philadelphia's first shot of the period.
The scoring continued and so did the hard hits. Neal flattened Game 2 star Sean Couturier in the waning minutes and sent the Flyers rookie centre to the locker room. Players from both teams—including Schenn and Crosby—had to be separated during a melee along the boards. Neal appeared to target Giroux's head in the third, though the Flyers star ducked and landed softly on the ice.
"We saw Neal going after Sean's head and Claude's head," Briere said. "Obviously, he had a plan in mind."
It's a plan Bylsma wants to avoid.
"The way the game was called, there was a lot of extracurricular activity during and after the plays," he said. "That's an area of the game we want to stay away from. We don't want to be involved in those situations against this team."
Notes: The Flyers hold a 3-0 lead in a playoff series for the 11th time. ... Johnson made his third career post-season relief appearance for the Penguins. ... The Penguins have lost six straight playoff games.