Commentary

Broad Street Nice Guys?

Updated: April 16, 2012, 8:55 PM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

VOORHEES, N.J. -- So, how whacked is this first-round playoff series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers?

The Flyers, the Broad Street Bullies, the team that melted down when playing this same Penguins team just three weeks ago, have regularly been among the league leaders in penalty minutes, not to mention historically being proponents of winning through anarchy, are the voice of reason.

Dare we even say it in the wake of Sunday's mayhem-filled 8-4 victory that took the Flyers one step closer to a shocking sweep of their cross-state rivals? The Flyers have emerged as the good guys in this little morality play.

"The extracurricular stuff? We're trying to stay out of it," Philadelphia winger Scott Hartnell told reporters Monday at the team's suburban New Jersey practice facility. "We don't want to get involved in that war of words or whatever. We're playing the game the right way, we're finishing checks, we're keeping our elbows down and playing the game the right way.

"You look at a couple of plays yesterday and I think a couple of guys took liberties on our guys. They weren't trying to hit to be effective, they were trying to hit to hurt. That's where it stopped being hockey. That's not the right way it should be played."

Huh?

Who are you and what have you done with the Scott Hartnell?

Yet this is the reality of a series that has seen most of what we thought we believed about these two marquee teams turned upside down.

And it is a credit to the Flyers, who have outscored the Penguins 20-12 and owned the special-teams battle -- scoring six times on the power play and adding three shorthanded goals -- that they are the ones who have dictated the terms of engagement and found themselves firmly, if surprisingly, on the moral high ground.

Even Pittsburgh head coach Dan Bylsma, the only member of the organization made available to the media on Monday, credited the Flyers for taking advantage of virtually every opportunity afforded them and for essentially putting the Penguins in a position where they let emotions get the better of them.

"I think there's a little bit of shock and disbelief, disappointment in the situation, being down 0-3 and how we've played," Bylsma said Monday.

"I think you'll find that to a man we don't think in this series and in these games we've played our hockey, played good hockey, and I think you see that frustration in the game build up and overflow," he said.

If the skate was on the other foot, Bylsma suggested you'd see the same level of frustration. And he's right. But that's not what has happened.

"I think you also have to hand the Flyers a lot of credit in every game and every situation they've capitalized and capitalized on the opportunities they've been given. They've earned them, they've played well, they've done that in each of the games," the Penguins coach said.

That is the yin and yang of the series. Every time the Flyers have turned the other cheek, taken advantage of a turnover, erased a Penguins lead, scored a shorthanded goal, the Penguins' frustration level has gone up another notch.

In Game 3, after the Flyers erased another early Penguin goal with four first-period goals en route to the 8-4 victory, that frustration percolated over in a handful of ugly moments for the Penguins.

Arron Asham will certainly face a suspension for his cross-check and punch to the back of the head of Brayden Schenn. Worse for the Penguins, James Neal faces a suspension for leveling an unsuspecting Sean Couturier, one of the rookies who has had such an impact on this series, in the third period. Neal is also being looked at for his late-game hit on Claude Giroux.

Both have hearings with NHL head of discipline Brendan Shanahan set for Tuesday.

Craig Adams was automatically suspended one game after instigating a late-game fight with Hartnell (and Bylsma was fined $10,000). The league had latitude to alter that suspension but chose not to.

"We can't control what they're doing. We can't control how they're going to play, how they're going to get in the scrums. But one thing we talked about was trying to stay disciplined, and try to play hard, whistle to whistle. And for the most part we've done that," explained Daniel Briere, who is as fierce a competitor, especially in the playoffs, as anyone.

"After whistles, you're used to seeing the Flyers start trouble, and for the most part we're staying away from it unless we have to protect our goalie, or protect each other from guys trying to take advantage of us," added Briere, who has five points in the first three games of this series.

There is no one answer for how this has unfolded. But let's start with the pre-series predictions, much of which focused on the Penguins' powerful offense and whether there was a team in the postseason that could stay close to them.

The Flyers were aware of those predictions and perhaps from having played so often -- confrontations that include not just six regular season games a season but also playoff confrontations in 2008 and 2009 -- didn't buy the hype. Whatever mystique might have existed elsewhere, it did not exist as the series began for the Flyers.

Even though they have trailed in all three games, they have shown no inclination they are fearful at all of the Penguins.

"I think the rivalry probably has a lot to do with that. I don't think we care that people are talking about us or not, at this point -- I think it's the fact that we believe we have almost just as many stars on our team, and the fact that the rivalry gets us going as well. I really believe that has a lot to do with it," Briere said.

Head coach Peter Laviolette said the Flyers never used the external view of this series as a motivating tool.

"They don't poll us. I know the media takes polls and they make their picks and they go from there. We never talked about Pittsburgh being favorites and we were this underdog. There (were) only the few points that separated us through the course of the regular season. We had success during the regular season and we know that they're an opponent that we need to respect for a lot of different reasons," Laviolette said.

Still, as one might expect, the Flyers coach is mightily pleased with how his team has responded to the many and varied circumstances through the first three games, if it runs against type or not.

"I'm glad our guys are working to stay in control and with their discipline. Again, there's things that we can do to be better. Perception doesn't really play into it for us," Laviolette said.