PHILADELPHIA -- The winning goal Mike Knuble scored for Philadelphia last night probably won't be remembered for all that long by most fans.
Neither will the way the Penguins, playing with a watered-down lineup, rallied to tie three times before losing to the Flyers, 4-3, at the Wachovia Center.
But an incident in which Penguins winger Georges Laraque knocked Flyers winger Steve Downie head-first into the boards in the waning seconds of the second period might have a half-life longer than uranium.
The only thing on which the Penguins and Flyers could agree was that Laraque was assessed a major penalty for hitting from behind and a game misconduct. Get past that, and everything became a matter of partisan perspective.
When Flyers coach John Stevens looked at the sequence, for example, he saw "a vicious incident" and "a very, very dangerous play."
When Laraque reflected on it, he saw an incident in which he pushed Downie, not cross-checked him, and did so with absolutely no malice, let alone intent to injure.
"If I want to hit somebody from behind," Laraque said, "he's not going to get up."
Downie did, in fact, get up after a brief time on the ice and, aside from the final 2.6 seconds of the period, did not miss any playing time. At least not until 5:34 of the third period, at which point he was assessed a fighting major and game misconduct for not having his sweater tied down during a bout with Penguins rookie Ryan Stone.
The league office is certain to review the Laraque-Downie incident, although Laraque insisted he is not concerned about the possibility of being suspended.
"He got up and fought in the third, so I'm not worried about it at all," Laraque said. "He was fine. He was laughing. He did that job perfectly. He drew a five-minute power play. That was his job, and it worked."
Downie's take on the sequence was that "stuff like that happens," and that "we were both going in the corner for the puck."
Regardless of what sanctions, if any, Laraque receives from the league, the Penguins have reached the All-Star break with a record of 27-18-4; that leaves them one point behind Philadelphia and New Jersey, which are tied for first place in the Atlantic Division.
"It seems like every game you play has big implications," said Stevens, whose team is 4-0 against the Penguins.
Plum native R.J. Umberger gave the Flyers a 1-0 lead at 9:34 of the opening period when he beat Penguins goalie Ty Conklin from the right hash mark. .
Evgeni Malkin countered for the Penguins by flipping a backhander between the legs of Flyers goalie Martin Biron at 16:37 for his 27th of the season and 12th in the past 10 games.
The Penguins' penchant for taking penalties -- they were shorthanded five times last night -- cost them at 12:59 of the second, when defenseman Randy Jones put Philadelphia back in front by scoring from between the hash marks.
Although Jones' goal came 10 seconds after a boarding minor to defenseman Kris Letang expired, the Penguins still were scrambling from being shorthanded for two minutes, and defenseman Sergei Gonchar failed to exploit an opportunity to clear the puck seconds before the Flyers scored.
Flyers center Daniel Briere took a needless penalty of his own at 17:12, when he skated into Conklin, and the Penguins parlayed it into a tying goal 42 seconds later. Petr Sykora scored it, his 15th, by deflecting in a Gonchar shot.
The Penguins killed the first 3 1/2 minutes of Laraque's major with stunning ease, but Flyers defenseman Jim Vandermeer beat Conklin with a low slap shot through traffic from the top of the slot at 3:53 to make it 3-2.
Although the Penguins got that back when Ryan Whitney threw in a shorthanded rebound at 4:51, 34 seconds later, Knuble jammed in a shot from the crease during what Whitney described as "a crazy scramble in front" for what proved to be the winner.
First Published January 25, 2008 5:00 AM