It's a bit tough to keep track of how many horses are in this race involving the Penguins this week.
There is their push to clamp down fourth place in the Eastern Conference, which would give them home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs, almost surely against rival Philadelphia, a team that plays its season finale Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
There is the fallout from what happened late in a 6-4 loss Sunday to the Flyers -- with not only members of both teams weighing in, but also NBC Sports analyst and former NHL player, coach and general manager Mike Milbury stoking things with remarks aimed at Penguins coach Dan Bylsma and captain Sidney Crosby.
There is a home game Thursday against the New York Rangers that no longer offers the hope it once did of overtaking that team for the top seed in the East.
- Matchup: Penguins vs. Boston Bruins, 7:38 p.m. today, TD Garden, Boston.
- TV/Radio: Root Sports, WXDX-FM (105.9).
- Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins; Tim Thomas for Bruins.
- Penguins: Are 10-8-1 vs. Northeast Division, including 2-1 vs. Bruins. ... Have won four in row in Boston. ... Pascal Dupuis' 14-game points streak (nine goals, 10 assists) is longest in NHL this season.
- Bruins: Have won five of past six games. ... Clinched Northeast title Sunday with 2-1 victory against Rangers. ... Thomas hasn't allowed more than two goals in his past seven starts.
- Hidden stat: Bruins went 7-3-1 over final 11 games a year ago and went on to win the Stanley Cup; they are 6-1-1 over past eight games this season with three games left.
And, oh yeah, there is the Penguins' game tonight in Boston against the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins.
What does things change for the Penguins as they approach their final three regular-season games?
"Nothing," Bylsma said Monday. "We're going to try to win every one of these games."
That's when they aren't responding to various charges about their strategies, their personalities, their motives and even their manhood.
It stems mostly from a skirmish Sunday with 1:03 left. An open-ice hit -- deemed clean by the officials---- delivered by Penguins center Joe Vitale on Flyers winger Danny Briere sparked the incident, which involved players tussling around the ice and Penguins assistant Tony Granato and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette jumping onto the dasher boards at the end of their respective benches and screaming at each other.
Among the fallout Monday were fines to Granato ($2,500) and Laviolette ($10,000) by the NHL, and a scathing interview Milbury gave to a sports talk show on a Philadelphia CBS Radio affiliate.
Milbury wondered why it was Granato, not Bylsma, who got into it with Laviolette after the Philadelphia coach broke a stick over the glass that serves as a partition between the benches.
"I thought that Dan Bylsma should have [taken] off his skirt and gone over there," Milbury said. "I thought it was pathetic [that Granato was the one to engage]."
Asked for a response, Bylsma said simply, "I wasn't wearing a skirt. [It was] a blue suit."
Milbury seemed to prefer how the Flyers handled things that game.
"The only thing that disappointed me from the Flyers' side is that tough guy [and Flyers assistant Craig] Berube is holding back Laviolette. I thought he would have been pushing him forward," Milbury said.
A few minutes earlier in the third period, Crosby shoved Flyers center Brayden Schenn as play was being whistled to a stop. Schenn retaliated by cross-checking Crosby from behind as players skated to their benches. Officials were going to penalize Schenn, but that was wiped off the books as per NHL rules because it was deemed via review that a shot by Penguins winger Steve Sullivan had gone into the net despite the fact that play continued until the next whistle.
Crosby -- who was playing in his 11th game in a second comeback from concussion and neck issues and has played in just 19 games this season after missing 41 games plus the playoffs last season -- chalked up the incident with Schenn to being part of a heated rivalry that could only grow with the game Saturday and the likely upcoming playoff series.
"I hit him, yeah," he said. "I finished my hit during the play. He hit me in the back after a whistle.
"I guess I should be ready for that. I guess I'll have to be aware of where I'm at after the whistles. ... You can dissect it all you want. When it comes down to it, [these teams] just don't like each other. ... That's probably the most hacks I've given out in a long time, so it seems to bring out the worst in me, too."
Milbury, in the same radio interview, had a lot to say about Crosby and the exchange with Schenn.
"Little goody-two-shoes goes to the corner and gives the shot to Schenn," he said. "Schenn was late to the party. He should have turned around and drilled him right away. I guess better late than never.
"So Crosby gets cross-checked. Big whoop. He said after he came back from his 35th concussion that, 'I'm not going to do this anymore; I'm not going to get into the scrums. I'm going to stay away from that stuff.' And he couldn't help himself because there's a little punk in Crosby. He's not the perfect gentleman. He's not that little sweet kid that you see in all those interviews with his hat pulled down over his eyes. I say, screw him. Hit him whenever you get the opportunity.
"Crosby, sheesh, he writes the book on whining. ... He's [Wayne] Gretzky-like in his whining."
The Flyers weren't happy with the Penguins, either.
Vitale's hit on Briere left the veteran out indefinitely because of a back contusion, according to the Flyers, and defenseman Nicklas Grossmann is out seven to 10 days because of what is believed to be a right knee injury he got on an earlier hit by Vitale.
Vitale -- a quick, feisty player whose five hits in the game gave him 102 in his first full NHL season -- said that while emotions run high in games between the teams, he didn't alter his game and isn't sure why his hit on Briere sparked such a fuss.
"I thought I came in [with a] clean shoulder-to-shoulder hit. I saw the replay. It was what I intended," he said. "What happened afterward, I'm not really sure. For a while I thought something happened behind the play because I didn't think it was because of what I did.
"There's a lot of emotion in the game, a heated rivalry. I don't know if they thought I was targeting a guy. My intent is never to hurt anyone. I was just out there playing my last shift like I play every shift. I saw a white jersey coming up the ice. I took the body on him. I didn't know if it was Briere or whoever. I didn't know, and I really didn't care."
Laviolette after the game said Bylsma was "gutless" for sending out his fourth line -- Vitale, Craig Adams and Arron Asham -- at that point, but Bylsma countered that, "Joe Vitale played that shift exactly the way he played every shift he played in that game."
Bylsma also hinted that Laviolette went out of his way to generate attention.
"Antics and theatrics on the bench by their coach are just that," Bylsma said.penguins
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at wlww.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: email@example.com, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly.