Editor's note, posted Feb. 21, 2013: The Philadelphia Flyers won two of three playoff games at Consol Energy Center last year against the Penguins. An incorrect victory total originally was reported.
Turns out you don't have to wait for the NHL playoffs to see a healthy Penguins lead evaporate to the Flyers along Fifth Avenue.
That haunting slice of déjà vu was just one of the featured elements available Wednesday night within the bitter politics of a glorious rivalry, as were flying knuckles, disputed goals, absurd penalties, an impromptu mosh pit that formed in front of the Pittsburgh net, an exchange of desperate timeouts, and four somewhat goofy-looking goals.
Then, it was time for the second period.
If you didn't know better, you would swear these teams were fighting for their playoff lives instead of just trying to decide who would get off on the right boot as the middle third of a truncated hockey season got started.
The Penguins, summarily dismissed from the playoffs a year ago by a Philadelphia team that won two of three appointments inside Consol Energy Center, arrived for this one with a three-game winning streak and valid credentials that put them among the very best teams of the season's first third. The Flyers got here with a record strikingly similar to those coach-firing Buffalo Sabres -- 7-9-1.
Of course, when it comes to Penguins-Flyers, precedent is not merely meaningless, it's generally beaten to a pulp at the first opportunity, symbolized fairly spectacularly by Philadelphia's Wayne Simmonds and Penguins winger Tanner Glass, whose faces absorbed each other's fists as much for protocol as owing to adrenaline overflow.
"Obviously, I think we've got to sharpen up a bit defensively," said Simmonds after a 6-5 Flyers victory in a riot of a hockey game. "You've got to try and stay on an even keel out there, but with Pittsburgh it's always up and down out there.
"You can never be really confident with any lead against a team like Pittsburgh."
The screw began to turn in this one within that aforementioned mosh pit, which formed 11 minutes into the first period when Kris Letang threw himself on a rebound near the Penguins goal line behind Tomas Vokoun.
Almost simultaneously, a riotous ballet was forming near the blue ice in the goalmouth, and, given the indecipherable physics of collisions and gravity, six, seven, and then eight players were sprawled in the crease.
I'm not positive, but I don't think when there are eight bodies in the crease that the goaltender is supposed to be the player farthest from the net. As Vokoun tried to swim over the bodies between himself and the goal line, though, the puck finally popped free for Philadelphia's Nicklas Grossmann, who lifted it into the net to halve the Penguins' 2-0 lead and sent the Flyers back to flying.
None of that should have happened, unless I've misunderstood that rule about no one being allowed to cover the puck except the goaltender. Letang covered it with the entire length of his body at the start of that sequence, which should have resulted in a penalty shot for Philadelphia rather than, you know, a mosh pit.
Not to quibble about the first Philadelphia goal, because the Flyers got the next three as well, opening a 4-2 lead that lasted until Tyler Kennedy put a puck in the net for the first time since about Mike Lange's third-grade picnic, but really, it had only been a month.
"It was like in the playoffs, when they get behind they like to target certain guys and, for some reason, we like to retaliate," Brooks Orpik said. "Definitely a weird game. Playing wide open like that isn't a very good way to play, not very good for our chances of winning hockey games. Some penalties we didn't need to take. It was reminiscent of the games last spring.
"I don't know how many times we can adjust. We know especially when we get a lead, they like to target certain guys, and then Zac Rinaldo goes off [for slashing] with Tanger [Letang], and that's a pretty good trade-off for them. We can talk about it as long as we want, we've got to go out and do it."
When a fifth Flyers goal went past Vokoun off Matt Niskanen's skate, Philadelphia's momentum seemed irreversible, but you can never discount the Flyers' love of taking stupid penalties, which was the very thing that made a hockey game of it again in the third period. James Neal scored a five-on-three power play goal and the building crowd went delirious when it thought Chris Kunitz had put in another. Kunitz had indeed put it past Ilya Bryzgalov, but with a distinct kicking motion, which is against the rules, at least those suddenly being enforced.
If there ever was a game destined to end on something entirely fluky, this was it, so Jakub Voracek decided he would complete his hat trick with a shot from behind the net, around Orpik, through Vokoun, and into the increasingly tortured history of this series.
Gene Collier: firstname.lastname@example.org.