Gene Collier: Cheers to this loss for Penguins



Now that all five compulsory episodes of the nasty, stupid hockey we call Penguins-Flyers are in the books for this season, the Flyers will take their show to Madison Square Garden this week to see how the postseason plays on Broadway, and the Penguins will return to civilization.

There will be playoffs for them, too, obviously, but not the nasty, stupid kind, at least not at first.

Philadelphia's Mark Streit very likely did the Penguins a favor by chipping a puck past Marc-Andre Fleury in overtime Saturday, guaranteeing they'll play someone other than the Flyers here starting Wednesday or Thursday.

Perfectly comfortable in this Fifth Avenue home away from home since the night they opened the new Uptown arena, the Flyers beat the Penguins for the fourth consecutive time and for the ninth time in 11 appointments at Consol Energy Center.

"I tried to go wide; it went off the [defenseman's] stick," Streit said about the retreating Kris Letang. "And then I think it went off his stick, then Fleury's stick. Fleury tried to poke-check it and missed it.

"I got a little lucky."

Again, not as lucky as the Penguins.

Now Dan Bylsma's team can take their NHL-best power play into the playoffs without having to cower to the Flyers, against whom it went 1 for 21 this winter. Now they can take their No. 2-ranked penalty-kill and not have to watch Philadelphia gleefully pump goal after goal through it.

"We got the chances we wanted," said Penguins forward Jussi Jokinen. "We got the momentum and we had a lot of good chances, but we didn't score. For some reason against the Flyers, our special teams haven't been good enough."

Jokinen got the game's first goal just two minutes in, and the Penguins' record when scoring first at that point was 37-4-1, but the opponent was wearing orange and white, so everything's upside down and things are about to get nasty and stupid.

So where to begin?

You like James Neal's slash to the back of Matt Read's neck late in the first period? Neal got two minutes for slashing and probably should have gotten four for a high stick, but it only took Jakub Voracek 26 seconds of power-play time to tie the score, 1-1. This against a Penguins penalty-kill that had extinguished 12 power plays in a row.

You like Jayson Megna, rather than just playing the puck at his feet, slamming defenseman Andrew MacDonald into netminder Steve Mason, sending Mason flat on his back and eventually out of the game with what gets called an upper-body injury?

"I don't see our guys doing that," snapped Flyers coach Craig Berube.

No, what Berube sees is Scotty Hartnell finding and shaking Letang like a ragdoll after the whistle, apropos of nothing.

"That's a guy pickin' on a guy who had a stroke," Bylsma said, marveling and smirking at the same time.

"Then he shouldn't play," Berube said. "He shouldn't be out there playing, bottom line. It's a stupid comment."

After the third period ended with two separate piles of brawling bodies up against the team benches, there was not, aside from Streit's winner, much except stupidity left, as it happened.

Voracek, who had two goals and an assist after firing seven shots in just under 17 splendid minutes, somehow found a line of questioning about the implications of the Mason injury patently stupid in itself.

"If Mason is out, can this team win without him?" was the question that started it.

"Why not? It's a stupid question," said the Flyers forward.

"Why is it stupid?" asked the questioner.

"How can you ask that?"

"Well, if Mason's hurt, you don't think it hurts the team if Mason's out?"

"Well of course, he's the No. 1 goalie."

Then it's not a stupid question, is it?

While this was going on, the Penguins were pretty much insisting that the Flyers had not forced them to get their nasty on, and that neither Saturday's 4-3 loss nor today's finale against the Ottawa Senators should have any impact on their postseason destinies.

Perhaps the fact that Sidney Crosby doesn't have a goal since March might be impactful, or the fact that he gave the puck away with regularity over the course of his more than 26 minutes Saturday.

"I think we're right where we want to be going into the playoffs," said Neal.

They are not where most respondents to a poll on Philly.com want them to be. In that one, 84 percent of respondents said the Flyers would have an easier time with these Penguins in the playoffs than against the Rangers.

If the Flyers get a chance to prove that very thing, I'm sure it will be nasty and stupid.


Gene Collier: gcollier@post-gazette.com.

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