Possible playoff series will pack a punch

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Philadelphia Flyers winger Scott Hartnell said he would like nothing more than to punch Nos. 71, 87, 18 and 14 of the Penguins right in the face.

Now that I have your attention ...

The subject came up Sunday after the Flyers roared back from an early two-goal deficit for the second time in two weeks to beat the Penguins, 6-4, at Consol Energy Center in a game in which the teams combined for 52 penalty minutes with 1:03 remaining and left Flyers coach Peter Laviolette accusing Penguins coach Dan Bylsma of being "gutless."

Hartnell mentioned how Pittsburgh was the city that hated him the most. "I don't know why," he said, grinning. "I guess every team has a guy you don't like, a guy you don't like the way he plays. The last couple of years with Pittsburgh, for us, it was Max Talbot. You hated him so much you just wanted to punch him in the face."

Now, Talbot plays for the Flyers and scored a big goal Sunday.

"I love him. He's a great kid," Hartnell said.

That's when Hartnell was asked which of these Penguins he would like to punch in the face and he responded with the numbers of Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, James Neal and Chris Kunitz. "Actually, I'd like to punch just about every one of them."

Hartnell will get plenty of chances.

Are the playoffs going to be fun or what?

The Penguins and Flyers almost certainly will meet in the first round. Before then, they will play Saturday at Consol Energy Center in the final regular-season game with the winner probably getting home-ice advantage. I'm almost thinking the Penguins would be better off starting a series in Philadelphia. The Flyers are 5-0 here the past two seasons.

"In their heads? I don't think so," Talbot said.

I'm not so sure.

The Flyers certainly have figured out a way to frustrate the Penguins. Again Sunday, just like in their 3-2 overtime win March 18 in Philadelphia, they banged after a whistle. The Penguins didn't like Sean Couturier bumping Malkin late in the third period. They really didn't like Brayden Schenn cross-checking Crosby from behind a few minutes earlier. "Clearly, a cheap shot," Bylsma said of Schenn's hit. "Clearly, a guy targeting a player."

Said Hartnell, "You key in on certain guys and hope you can get them off their game. You want them to focus on you as an agitator rather than focusing on the game."

Laviolette didn't like when Bylsma sent out the Penguins' fourth line -- including Arron Asham, the closest thing the Penguins have to an enforcer along with defenseman Deryk Engelland -- for a faceoff with 1:15 left. He really didn't like a hard center-ice hit a few seconds later by the Penguins' Joe Vitale that rattled Danny Briere even though Hartnell later called it a "clean hit." Laviolette picked up a stick and smashed it over the glass with part of the stick landing in the Penguins' bench area.

"That was my stick. I'm a little sad about that. It was a good stick," Talbot said, trying hard not to laugh.

The next thing you knew, Laviolette was up on his bench screaming X-rated stuff at Bylsma. Bylsma and Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato screamed X-rated stuff back. Laviolette and Granato were thrown out of the game.

"Those guys hadn't played for 12 minutes," Laviolette said of the Penguins' fourth line. "It was a gutless move by their coach ... It's gutless."

Bylsma had finished speaking with media before he could be told of Laviolette's comments. Later, through a spokesperson, he declined to hiss back.

It was enough to bring back memories of the 1991 Stanley Cup playoffs. In the Penguins-Boston series, Bruins coach Mike Milbury accused Penguins coach "Badger" Bob Johnson of "being a professor of goonism" because of rough stuff on the ice. That was a fun series won by the Penguins in six games. The Penguins will be thrilled to beat the Flyers in six in the upcoming series.

"Lavy lost it there for a second," said Hartnell, who seemed to get a kick out of all of it, including the mayhem that followed on the ice after Vitale's hit on Briere. Engelland squared off with the Flyers' Wayne Simmonds and, on my card, won a decision. The Penguins' Craig Adams wrestled with Marc-Andre Bourdon. Asham tried to poke anyone in a Flyers uniform.

"It's April right now. It's playoff hockey," Talbot said, shrugging.

If this was a preview of coming attractions, the game Saturday and the ones that follow in the playoffs should be terrific.

Hartnell figures to be right in the middle of all of the chaos even if he stops just short -- and I mean, just short -- of punching any of the Penguins in the face. In the March 18 game, he and Kunitz mixed it up with Kunitz trying to push Hartnell's head through the Wells Fargo Arena ice. Hartnell got up, grinning. He grinned again Sunday when the Consol Energy Center people showed him on the scoreboard and the fans booed him loudly. He still was grinning after the disorder on the ice at the end, goading on the fans behind the Flyers' bench.

Hartnell is right. He is the hockey player Pittsburgh loves to hate most, more than even Flyers teammate Jaromir Jagr.

"I get fired up to play here," Hartnell said. "[Pittsburgh] is the team to beat."

The Penguins have to do a better job of getting fired up for Hartnell and his Flyers pals than they did in the past two games.

They are going to see plenty of 'em in the next three weeks.

What fun it is going to be.


Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.


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