VOORHEES, N.J. -- Maybe the Earth shifted on its axis and what was west is now east and vice versa. At least in Pennsylvania.
How else to explain what has happened in an Eastern Conference first-round playoff series between the supposed big, bad, bloodthirsty, dirty Philadelphia Flyers and the perceived composed, well-oiled, skilled, favored Penguins?
"You look at after whistles, you're used to seeing the Flyers start trouble," Philadelphia center Daniel Briere said Monday, a day after the Flyers took a commanding 3-0 series lead Sunday with an 8-4 game that was fight- and penalty-marred and left the Penguins facing supplemental discipline from the NHL.
"We've discussed a game plan of how to get them frustrated, get them off their game -- just getting after it, playing hard, playing smart between the whistles," winger Scott Hartnell said.
"I think we've won that battle of the discipline, and it shows in having a 3-0 series lead."
Hartnell is a villain to Penguins fans, someone perhaps pegged to come unglued, take bad penalties and perhaps try to injure Penguins players. Yet he has a modest seven penalty minutes going into Game 4 Wednesday at Wells Fargo Center.
"We're trying to stay out of it," Hartnell said. "We don't want to get involved in a war of words or whatever. We're playing the game the right way. We're finishing checks but keeping our elbows down."
Playing hard while staying in control has helped Philadelphia come back from early deficits in each game in the series.
The first two games were fairly straightforward, if high-scoring. No other series is producing the kind of offense at a rate comparable to the Penguins (12 goals) and, particularly, the Flyers (20 goals).
And then came the extracurricular events in Game 3 -- 158 penalty minutes, 89 of those issued to the Penguins, 3 fights, 11 roughing minor penalties, 7 misconduct penalties and a match penalty.
A couple of the bouts were unlikely matchups -- Penguins captain Sidney Crosby picked a fight with center Claude Giroux, and Penguins top defenseman Kris Letang squared off with veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen.
"In 12 years, I haven't seen [Timonen] get his heartbeat over 140, and the guy's out there scrapping with a tough guy like Letang," Hartnell said. "It's great to see. Guys are being calling out out there, and we're sticking up for each other."
Although the Flyers felt compelled to respond, it seemed to them that it was the Penguins who were the aggressors -- a ploy to give themselves a spark and gain momentum, which has long been the type of thing associated with the Flyers.
"I think they were trying to get in our heads, wanted us to get a little [ticked] off and stop playing the way we've been playing," Giroux said.
"We did a good job of staying focused, not [being] worried about that kind of stuff, especially after the whistle."
As a result, the Flyers appear to be the ones staying cooler. They are responding when the Penguins score, winning the special teams battle and not letting emotion get the best of them.
In other words, they are playing the game that was widely expected of the Penguins, and they are on the brink of eliminating a team that was considered one of the favorites, if not the strongest contender, to win the Stanley Cup.
"Everybody was picking Pittsburgh going into the first round," Giroux said. "I don't think guys looked at that a lot, but once in a while we did and it was a little more motivation for us to win and prove them wrong."
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette could not care less about which team has what reputation or was picked to win.
"I'm glad our guys are working to stay in control," he said. "Perception doesn't really play into it, what's perceived from years past.
"This is a new group. This is our group. The objective is to try and stay disciplined."
And, by extension, win. The Flyers so far have done all of that.penguins