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By Michael Rushton, NHL Contributor - Archive - Email
Penguins hope the high road is the right road
The two teams combined for 52 penalty minutes with 63 seconds left to play in the game.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - So the dust has settled from the Pittsburgh Penguins' heated contest with the rival Philadelphia Flyers and cooler heads have now prevailed.

Yeah, right.

Battling for playoff positioning, the Penguins and Flyers engaged in an exciting and spirited battle on Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, with Philadelphia pulling within a point of the fourth-seeded Pens with a 6-4 victory. But the battle wasn't just on the scoreboard as the two Atlantic Division residents combined for 52 penalty minutes with 63 seconds left to play in the game.

The animosity began to build when Penguins captain Sidney Crosby took a cross- check to the back from the Flyers' Brayden Schenn after a whistle. Moments later, and with the game all but decided, Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale leveled Daniel Briere with a clean, open-ice hit that prompted a response from the Flyers on the ice. All the skaters came together and Philadelphia head coach Peter Laviolette got into a shouting match with Pittsburgh assistant Tony Granato after Laviolette broke a stick in front of his own bench, with part of the remains ending up in the Pittsburgh bench.

It was just the latest chapter in the Penguins-Flyers rivalry which should produce an exciting first-round matchup in the upcoming playoffs if the current standings hold up.

But how will the Penguins approach what is sure to be a brutal and physical series?

The fact that it was Granato and not head coach Dan Bylsma that engaged with Laviolette shows that Bylsma isn't going to let the Flyers try to alter his style or get inside of his head. Though Pittsburgh will be forced to be more physical and protect its stars when facing Philadelphia, Crosby feels his coach is taking the right approach.

"I think that's par for the course," Crosby said a day after Sunday's rough stuff. "I think both teams bring out that in one another. That's certainly not our game, so we got to stay away from it, getting caught up in it. It's useless for us to get caught up in it. We're a much better team when we just play. I think it's something that we will try to stay away from a little bit next time."

Even Crosby, though, admitted he was no angel in Sunday's matinee.

"I know that's probably the most hacks I've given out personally in a long time. They seem to bring out the worst in me, too," said the former Hart Trophy winner.

Somewhat surprisingly, it was Bylsma still taking some heat in the aftermath of Sunday's game.

First, he was called gutless by Laviolette following the contest for putting Pittsburgh's fourth line onto the ice after a Flyers' empty-net goal. Bylsma was then bashed by NBC studio analyst Mike Milbury on a Philadelphia radio station, with Milbury making a series of comments for which he has since apologized.

"It's not totally uncommon," Milbury said on Monday of Laviolette's actions toward the Penguins bench. "I can remember being on such a perch, or at least trying to climb over the boards to get at somebody to make a point. And I thought Dan Bylsma should have took off his skirt and gone over there."

Again, Bylsma would not bite.

"I wasn't wearing a skirt. It was my blue suit," the coach said later on Monday when asked about both Laviolette's and Milbury's comments.

As for Laviolette calling him gutless, Bylsma said, "Antics and theatrics on the bench by their coach are just that. We don't play the game. What happened on the ice was a clean hockey play. There was no penalty on the play. Their team took exception to a play where there was no penalty on. Our team, you know, probably would have done the same thing."

Bylsma showed what he is about in the locker room when NHL fans got a look at him during HBO's "24/7" series detailing the Penguins' road to the 2011 Winter Classic. He has won a Stanley Cup and Jack Adams Award with Pittsburgh as the league's top coach and knows that another championship will be won on the ice and not through the media.

Rather than worry about the Flyers or studio analysts, Bylsma will turn his focus on to why the Penguins have lost four of six overall and haven't beaten the Flyers in five regular-season meetings at the CONSOL Energy Center. He could start by getting Marc-Andre Fleury back on track, as the goaltender has allowed 14 goals over a personal three-start losing streak.

"I've let in a lot of goals those past three games. It's rough going down like that. I have to do better, play better, get some wins," Fleury said.

Fleury will have some chances to do that with the Penguins set to visit the Boston Bruins on Tuesday night before a showdown with the playoff-bound New York Rangers two nights later.

Then there is the Pens' season finale that features another visit from, yup, the Flyers. Bylsma will try to get his club to scale back the extracurricular stuff, but that will be hard with home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs possibly being on the line.

And, of course, there is that whole rivalry thing.

Crosby hit the nail on the head in summing things up on Monday.

"Let's be honest. Both teams bring out a lot of bad things in one another," he said. "You can sit there and put a microscope on every little slash that goes out there. The fact is, both teams do it. Both teams aren't going to sit there and deny that they don't. We don't like each other.

"That's the way it is."


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