Before the puck dropped on the first faceoff of his first shift Saturday, Penguins center Joe Vitale heard what he figured he would: An invitation to fight.
It came from Harry Zolnierczyk, who had been recalled by Philadelphia a day earlier, but the message dated to last week.
The carryover to Saturday's 4-2 Penguins victory in the teams' regular-season finale stemmed from late in a 6-4 Flyers win last Sunday. Vitale hit Philadelphia center Danny Briere as Briere carried the puck through the neutral zone. It sparked a series of tussles on the ice, and Flyers coach Peter Laviolette broke a stick over the glass and ended up in a shouting match with Penguins assistant Tony Granato.
Laviolette later called Penguins coach Dan Bylsma "gutless" and questioned his decision to have his team's fourth line, including Vitale, on the ice at that point in a two-goal game.
Briere remains out because of a back injury. He has said he thought the hit -- which was not penalized -- was not dirty but carried an intent to injure.
Vitale disputed that during the week leading up to Saturday's rematch, but he figured that would not be the end of it.
The NHL took care of part of the aftermath, fining Laviolette $10,000 and Granato $2,500. Vitale handled the rest, with what appeared to be a decisive win against Zolnierczyk with several quick punches at 2:22 of the first period.
"He challenged me off the first draw," Vitale said. "I just wanted to get it out of the way.
"I kind of expected something to happen. I'm glad it's done. It's over with. I'm moving on. They can do whatever they want. I'm ready to play hockey, ready for the postseason."
The Penguins and Flyers meet later this week in the first round of the playoffs.
Vitale and Bylsma figure a page has been turned.
"I thought right off the hop Joey V. showed a lot of guts," Bylsma said. "He answered the bell, did a good job, and that seemed to kind of put that behind us."
Veteran forward Craig Adams has won a Stanley Cup with Carolina and the Penguins. Here is his assessment of the Penguins' chances of winning another Stanley Cup this postseason:
"My read is that we've got as good a team as anybody in the league," he said. "I really believe that.
"We've developed a pretty good identity over the course of the year. You can't turn it on overnight. It has to be something that's built over a long period of time.
"Obviously, we can score. Our special teams is really good. On the nights when we manage the game really well, I think we're really tough to beat. When we don't, we give up too many chances and we rely too much on [goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury]."
With the regular season over, here is a look at the Penguins' 2011-12 statistical leaders:
• Goals -- Evgeni Malkin, 50.
• Power-play goals -- James Neal, 18.
• Short-handed goals -- Pascal Dupuis, Jordan Staal, 3.
• Winning goals -- Malkin, 9.
• Assists -- Malkin, 59.
• Points -- Malkin, 109.
• Shots -- Malkin, 339.
• Shooting percent -- Staal, 16.3.
• Average ice time -- Kris Letang, 24:50.
• Faceoff percent -- Vitale, 55.7.
• Penalty minutes -- Neal, 87.
• Hits -- Brooks Orpik, 259.
• Blocked shots -- Zbynek Michalek, 144.
• Missed shots -- Neal, 123.
• Plus -- Letang, plus-21.
• Minus -- Adams, minus-6.
• Giveaways -- Malkin, 73.
• Takeaways -- Malkin, 52.
The crowd, as always, booed former Penguins star winger Jaromir Jagr every time he touched the puck, but the boos seemed even louder a couple of times when Laviolette appeared on the video screen. "I thought they were booing Jagr," Laviolette insisted wryly. "I'm pretty sure they were." ... The game drew a crowd of 18,616, a record for a hockey game at Consol Energy Center. It was the Penguins' 251st consecutive sellout.penguins
For much more on the Penguins, read the Pens Plus blog with Dave Molinari and Shelly Anderson at www.post-gazette.com/plus. Shelly Anderson: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1721 or Twitter @pgshelly First Published April 8, 2012 12:00 AM