Collier: This time, Flyers lose their cool

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Just as it has become so patently obvious that the Penguins don't need a favor from anybody as they go busily about dominating the Eastern half of theNHL, they're suddenly getting favors anyway from the most unlikely source in the world.

The Philadelphia Flyers.

It's not so much that their bitter Broad Street rivals, having avoided their beloved penalty box for most of the first 53 minutes Sunday night, finally resorted to the kind of league-leading stupidity that helped turn a one-goal lead into a 2-1 Penguins overtime win.

No it's much more than that.

The Flyers are further favoring the mad hot Penguins by falling from the playoff picture like a rock, losing Sunday for the sixth time in eight games, and a postseason without Philadelphia in it looks like a mighty fortuitous thing around here, unless you've forgotten the shattering events of last spring.

"I don't care, really," said Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury after he sustained a brilliant overtime long enough for Tyler Kennedy to whip the puck past Ilya Bryzgalov at the other end. "This was a little bit different kind of game with them. I think the fans might have liked another of those 6-5 games, but I think we played really well.

"It was nice to see us just stick to our plan. We stayed calm."

Fleury was dead right about this: Very little that might be described as typical of the sultry recent history of this Penguins-Flyers rivalry presented itself on the ice Sunday, with the notable exception perhaps of the Penguins winning on home ice.

That reduced Philadelphia's dominance in Consol Energy Center to a slightly more palatable 8-3.

There was nothing even approaching the brand of swashbuckling, fire-wagon style that the series' newer students have come to expect, just as there was nothing that would suggest that in the past 13 games between the Penguins and Philadelphia, a staggering 111 goals had been scored, 56 by the Flyers, 55 by the Penguins.

A squeaky-tight, one-goal affair with almost no in-and-out traffic near the penalty box is hardly what this matchup has come to represent, but there it was.

Whatever it was.

Apparently Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds just couldn't stand it any more after about 53 minutes. He slashed Brooks Orpik with the Flyers protecting a 1-0 lead, then teammate Kimmo Timonen seconded that displaced emotion to set the Penguins up with a five-on-three situation that Sidney Crosby turned into a 1-1 tie with little more than six minutes left.

Maybe the incongruence had grown from the fact that so many of the performers seemed to be doing so many things unwittingly or half-wittingly in this final regular-season meeting, and maybe it was just that the Flyers, who hadn't played since last Monday, had gotten away from their familiar penalty-taking rhythms.

There were but two minor penalties by both clubs through the first two periods, with Philadelphia taking only its 180th of the season, which continues to lead the planet.

In any case, the official schedule of the NHL, in conjunction with the current political realities of its Eastern Conference, looks as though it's telling the Penguins they likely won't see Philadelphia's garish orange-and-black outfits again until the fall.

The Flyers appear headed for 10th place this morning, perhaps several fathoms deeper, but if they were to somehow save themselves a playoff reservation that necessitated another springtime Penguins encounter, the bulk of that series would be staged right here in River City, where the Flyers play better than, uh, anywhere.

The better news is that the Penguins extended their winning streak to 12 games, only the 11th such stretch of perfection in all of NHL history, and just as encouraging as all that is the fact that they were again led by Fleury and a defense that continues to make deft play after deft play.

It was another one-goal game by the opposition, as a result, and it means that the Penguins have allowed only nine goals, total, in the past eight games.

That just happens to be the way Dan Bylsma's team won four rounds in the playoffs four years ago, despite a well-deserved reputation as a team that can beat you, 6-5 and 7-6. The truth is, it was much more attuned to the coach's system when it was winning, 2-1 and 3-1 and 3-2.

As perhaps the last detail of this year's Flyers-Penguins installment, Philadelphia defender Braydon Coburn hammered Pascal Dupuis into the boards behind Bryzgalov.

It was the kind of gratuitous, nasty business this series can too often devolve into. I can easily wait until October or November to see it again.

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Gene Collier:


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