Man, the Flyers and Penguins really hate each other, don't they?
With two huge points at stake on a Sunday afternoon affair in Philadelphia that was played with the fervor of a Stanley Cup playoffs matchup, the two teams traded blows on the scoreboard and after the whistle for 65 minutes. Well, alright. Not quite 65 minutes.
With four minutes to go in regulation, the teams engaged in some extracurricular activities that resulted in Scott Hartnell and Chris Kunitz wrestling around the neutral zone. While the referees tried to restrain the pair, Kunitz pressed his forearm into the side of Hartnell's head, wedging the hairy Flyer's head between his elbow pad and the ice surface.
But it was Hartnell, still sporting quite a raspberry on his face, who was all smiles in the end after he rifled a shot past Marc-Andre Fleury with .9 seconds remaining in overtime, giving the Flyers a dramatic 3-2 win over their hated in-state rivals.
The goal was Hartnell's second of the game and 35th of the season. He tied the game with a dazzling sharp-angle shot from just in front of the goal line that sailed above Fleury's shoulder to knot the game at 2 roughly five minutes into the third period.
The Flyers, who obviously have a storied history of intimidating opponents, erased a 2-0 deficit and sent a definitive message to the Penguins, winners of their previous 11 and flying high since the return of Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, that they aren't afraid of anyone.
The two points earned by the Flyers allowed them to climb within three points of the Rangers for the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference lead and within two points of the Penguins. If the season ended today, these two teams would play a minimum of four times in the first round of the playoffs. But you can probably pencil them in for a few more than that.
Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-Andre Fleury put on a goaltending clinic all afternoon, constantly challenging the other to top their last big save. Bryzgalov, who has come on of late and is one of the NHL's hottest netminders, made 38 saves, including 16 in the first period as the Penguins totally controlled the play early on.
While it would be quite a treat for hockey fans to see these two teams faceoff in the opening round of the playoffs, the inevitability of their meeting far from a foregone conclusion. The teams will square off twice in April, including the last game of the regular season.
With both in such close proximity to the Rangers for the top spot in the East--and the Devils who sit in sixth place, just five points behind Philadelphia-- a lot can happen in the final weeks of the year. So don't make reservations for these combatants just yet.
But boy, would it be fun to see Hartnell and Kunitz Crosby and Claude Giroux battle it out for much more than in-state bragging rights, but a chance to move one step closer to Lord Stanley.