PHILADELPHIA -- Nearly 20,000 people were shoehorned into the Wachovia Center for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final last night, but not all of them were Philadelphia fans.
Sure, most were, but there were a few conspicuous exceptions. Including a pair with strong ties to a couple of the Penguins.
Parental bonds, actually.
The fathers of center Sidney Crosby and defenseman Ryan Whitney attended the game. And while Troy Crosby often follows the Penguins during the regular season, that isn't the case with Whitney's dad, for whom the game last night was his first in this city.
"He's never seen a game here," Whitney said. "I said, 'Get ready.' "
Whitney didn't expect his father to dress in a way that would draw attention, like wearing his son's jersey -- "He'll just have regular clothes on," Whitney said. "You won't even know he's a Penguins fan" -- but didn't rule out him interacting with Flyers fans.
And not necessarily in a way that would require intervention by a neutral party, let alone the security staff.
"He'll have fun," Whitney said. "He'll probably make some friends up in the stands. Who knows?"
Penguins center Jordan Staal will return to his hometown of Thunder Bay, Ontario, today for his paternal grandfather's funeral.
A private plane arranged by former Penguin Mark Recchi will carry him to Canada, and Staal is expected to return tonight.
"I want to be there," Staal said. "There are bigger things than hockey."
Staal's brother, Eric, left the Canadian team yesterday at the world championships in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to attend the funeral.
Could have been a conspiracy. Maybe it was a conservation effort. Or perhaps someone simply forgot to throw a switch.
Whatever the reason, the lights above the playing surface at the Wachovia Center were not turned on until 11:27 yesterday morning. That was just three minutes before the scheduled start of the Penguins' game-day skate and well after most of the players had gone out to loosen up.
After skating around in near-darkness, for 10 or 15 minutes in some cases, the players responded to the lights coming on by cheering loudly and tapping their sticks on the ice, a universal gesture of approval in hockey.
Penguins general manager Ray Shero was assistant general manager in Nashville in 2005, when the Predators invested a first-round draft choice in defenseman Ryan Parent.
Parent now belongs to Philadelphia and was plugged into the Flyers' lineup last night because of the facial injuries that prevented Braydon Coburn from playing.
Although Parent isn't much of an offensive force -- he failed to get a goal or assist in 22 regular-season appearances and was shut out in his only previous appearance in these playoffs -- Shero believes he has a solid future at this level.
"Ryan is a really good skater with good size [6 feet 2, 205 pounds]," he said. "I think he'll play in the league a really long time.
"He's got good hockey sense. He hasn't shown a lot of offensive ability, but he's a really good shut-down guy. That's a role he'll develop into."
Crosby and goalie Marc-Andre Fleury missed extended stretches this season because of high ankle sprains.
There's no way to construe losing two players who are so critical to their success as a positive for the Penguins, but Crosby acknowledged yesterday that sitting out 29 games because of the injury and its aftermath might have helped to keep his energy reserve a bit higher than it otherwise would be at this time of year.
"I think we've had a little bit more rest," Crosby said. "Maybe not wanted rest, but at the same time, rest."
Dave Molinari can be reached at DWMolinari@Yahoo.com .