Flyers, Pens trade verbal shots

Posted: April 06, 2012

CANONSBURG, Pa. – Philadelphia's favorite hockey player has had quite a week. With up to eight games against the Flyers, things should be just as interesting for Sidney Crosby over the next couple weeks.

On Monday, former coach turned commentator Mike Milbury went on WIP radio and trashed him for being a dirty player and a whiner. On Tuesday, Milbury apologized.

Then Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube, who made an NHL career out of punching men in the face, called Crosby and teammate Evgeni Malkin "the two dirtiest players on their hockey team."

On Thursday night, New York Rangers coach John Tortorella lashed out, referring to Crosby and Malkin as the "two whining stars" of "one of the most arrogant organizations in the league."

You don't need a calendar to know the playoffs are about to start. You can tell by the gamesmanship emanating from coaches and players.

"I vaguely have an idea of what he said," Crosby said Friday, referring specifically to Tortorella's comments. "I'm sure he'll apologize today about it and everything will be forgotten."

If the Penguins go on to face the Rangers in the playoffs, Tortorella's comments will be anything but forgotten. This is the stuff that hockey grudges and tabloid headlines are made from. For now, though, the attention will shift to the pre-existing bad blood between the Flyers and Penguins.

One week after Flyers coach Peter Laviolette broke a stick over the glass separating the teams' benches, the Penguins will host the Flyers Saturday in a friendly little exhibition. The real fun begins when the playoffs open next week.

"I don't know when this all started," Crosby said, "if this is part of the new tactics heading into the playoffs, but it's garbage. The game is played on the ice. You get all this stuff going on, it's nonsense. If they want to do it, great, but I'm not going to waste my time answering questions about it. It's getting pretty old."

It really is astonishing when you think about it. The NFL just carpet-bombed the New Orleans Saints for targeting players in an effort to injure them. That scandal took another turn when a damning audiotape surfaced of Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams giving a despicable pregame speech.

Meanwhile, NHL coaches and players are openly accusing each other of doing the very same thing. Of course, they're also all pretty much doing the very same thing. There may be no smoking audiotape, but certain players know when they're tapped to go over the boards that their role is to harm someone.

That's why Laviolette went off last week when Penguins coach Dan Bylsma put his, er, physical players on the ice in the waning moments of a Flyers win. Laviolette called Bylsma "gutless" after Penguins forward Joe Vitale leveled Danny Briere with an open-ice check. Briere has said the hit was clean but also that he believed there was an intent to injure.

"I feel bad if they feel that way," Vitale said. "I've never been a player like that. I play hard. I play every shift like it's my last. I had no idea it was Briere. I just saw a white jersey coming at me."

Through the miracle of special hockey glasses, every controversial play can be seen differently, depending upon your loyalties. Flyers fans think Crosby dove when Brayden Schenn cross-checked him from behind a few minutes before the Briere hit. Penguins fans see a rookie blindsiding a marquee player who has been plagued by concussions.

"Gutless" is in the eye of the beholder.

Rangers fans think Brooks Orpik tried to hurt Rangers center Derek Stephan Thursday night. Pens fans see an accident of timing, as Stephan tried to avoid a clean hit. Oh, and they remember every similar hit ever delivered by a Ranger. Or a Flyer, for that matter.

The truth is, they all do it. And frankly, it's kind of foolish for Tortorella or Berube or Laviolette to criticize Crosby and the Penguins for whining by whining so publicly themselves.

"It's coming out of Philly, which it's come out of for seven years, since I've played in the league," Crosby said. "I'll be the first one to admit that, in my first couple years, I was pretty hard on the refs. I've come a long way since then. To get those kinds of remarks is uncalled for and not warranted. I don't really know what I can say. I'm not going to sit here and defend myself for something that's not going on."

Crosby said he learned that "it's a waste of energy" to complain to referees who aren't going to change their calls, anyway. It is a lesson coaches like Tortorella may come to learn as well.


Contact Phil Sheridan at 215-854-2844, psheridan@phillynews.com, or on Twitter @Sheridanscribe. Read his blog, "Philabuster," at http://go.philly.com/philabuster. Read his columns at www.philly.com/philsheridan.

 

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