Melee could be sign of what's to come for Flyers-Penguins

Flyers' Pavel Kubina (center) and Brayden Schenn tangle with Pittsburgh's Arron Asham during late-game fireworks.
Flyers' Pavel Kubina (center) and Brayden Schenn tangle with Pittsburgh's Arron Asham during late-game fireworks. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
Posted: April 02, 2012

PITTSBURGH - It ended with Peter Laviolette and Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato face-to-face, standing on top of the boards with Laviolette holding a freshly broken stick he just smashed on the glass partition separating the two teams.

On the ice in front of them, Wayne Simmonds was busy tangling with Derek Engelland, despite a black eye swollen to the size of a grapefruit, which forced him to wear a visor.

Twenty feet away, Pavel Kubina was chucking knuckles with Matt Niskanen. Brayden Schenn and Joe Vitale were busy hammering away at each other.

It was Old Time Hockey at its finest. Dave Schultz and Eddie Shore would have been proud.

The five-on-five, plus coaches, melee, with just 1:03 remaining on Sunday afternoon, was the dessert to a scrumptious and satisfying 6-4 comeback win for the Flyers. The late-game fireworks will serve as the appetizer to the impending and mouth-watering Eastern Conference quarterfinal death match between the two ill-humored rivals.

By the time all stitches and blows are tallied at the end of April, as the Flyers and Penguins could meet a total of nine times after a best-of-seven series, a small part of Pennsylvania may be in ruins.

For the second Sunday in 3 weeks, the Flyers erased a 2-0 deficit against Pittsburgh, though all anyone was interested in talking about postgame was the bad blood boiling.

"They were trying to send a message," Scott Hartnell said. "We were up a few goals and they had their meat out there. A few fights squared away. There's emotions in games, sometimes they go overboard. It was a great battle."

After a 10-minute delay to sort everything out, in which the officials needed pen and paper, 52 penalty minutes and 15 infractions were doled out for the fracas. Laviolette and Granato were tossed. It is believed to be the first time a Flyers coach had been ejected from a game since the late Roger Neilson was thrown out during a stick-throwing tirade on March 17, 1999.

The gloves were tossed after Danny Briere was rocked with a clean hit by Vitale in open ice, something Laviolette wouldn't tolerate. Once his teammates were spoken for in fights, Briere immediately left the game, though the Flyers said he was fine.

"It was a gutless move by their coach," Laviolette said. "[Pittsburgh's enforcers] hadn't been out on the ice in 12 minutes. It's gutless."

Penguins coach Dan Bylsma didn't seem to appreciate the flying stick.

"We went out and played and they took exception to a hit," Bylsma said. "From what I can gather, their coach didn't like the hit and took a stick and broke it over the glass. And that stick ended up on our bench."

"I know [Laviolette] was pissed and he showed that," Sidney Crosby said. "I'm sure their coach doesn't like to see one of their top players getting hit. But it was a clean hit. Maybe he shouldn't have put him out there."

Laviolette refused to further discuss the extracurricular activities, but assistant coach Craig Berube - who likely was licking his chops from the bench - said it was a normal situation.

"It was emotions, they're running high," Berube said. "He was mad. Things happen. It's part of it sometimes, coaches get upset just like players.

"It's going to be a tough [playoff] series. They're two teams that have been rivals for a long time and two good hockey teams. It's going to be tough out there."

With the win, the fifth-place Flyers (46-24-9) hit the 100-point plateau for the 19th time in 44 seasons - tied for the most in NHL history with Boston. The Flyers are one point away from clinching the fifth spot, and one point back of Pittsburgh for fourth place, and home-ice advantage in the first round.

With a gleaming, 5-0-0 record at Consol Energy Center since its opening, the Flyers might not want to start the series in Philadelphia.

"This is a much different building than the Igloo," Hartnell said, referring to the old Mellon Arena across the street. "We were almost scared coming into the Igloo - people were right on you, and just how dumpy the place was. Rats [were] everywhere. It was tough. There's even more rats now [in the rubble across the street]. But I think it's good that we have the confidence to win here and play hard. We know in our hearts and our heads that we can come in here and win."

The Flyers tied a franchise record with their 25th road win, and they have one chance to top it: Saturday back in Pittsburgh. Hartnell ended the game by saluting a Hulk Hogan lookalike mocking the Flyers from behind their bench, a perfect cap for their on-ice WrestleMania in the Iron City.

"The hockey gods, they always find a way to make it interesting," Jaromir Jagr said. "They did it again."


Contact Frank Seravalli at seravaf@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @DNFlyers.

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