Flyers, fans lovin' that playoff passion

Penguins forward Sidney Crosby fights with Flyers forward Claude Giroux during Game 3 of their NHL...

Penguins forward Sidney Crosby fights with Flyers forward Claude Giroux during Game 3 of their NHL Eastern Conference quarterfinal playoff series at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Penn., April 15, 2012. (TIM SHAFFER/Reuters)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:12 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA - Depending on who's doing the talking, the mayhem in Game 3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins-Philadelphia Flyers opening-round series was either:

A) A step back into the Hands of Stone Age era when fighting ruled and the skilled players hid in caves; or

B) Some of the greatest, most entertaining hockey we've seen in a long time.

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who's never been a fan of the goon buffoonery, wasn't sitting on the fence.

"It was a great hockey game. I got so many texts after the game. If you're just a fan of the sport, just from an enjoyment level of watching a game of hockey, it was great," he said of the 8-4 win that gave the Flyers a 3-0 series lead. The Flyers can eliminate the Penguins in what would be shocking fashion Wednesday night.

"It was back and forth, it was toe-to-toe, there were fights, there were goals, it was great. I had a lot of people just texting me saying it was of the best games, if not the best game, they'd ever seen."

The game saw stars Claude Giroux of the Flyers and Sidney Crosby of the Penguins drop the gloves, top defencemen Kris Letang of the Pens and Kimmo Timonen of the Flyers tossed for fighting on the same stoppage and some ugliness on the part of the Penguins. Wingers Arron Asham and James Neal both face disciplinary hearings Tuesday for their actions.

Asham crosschecked Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn in the head after he hit Pittsburgh defenceman Paul Martin. Neal will have to answer for two incidents: a late hit on Flyers forward Sean Couturier and a charge at Giroux.

The latter sparked another skirmish in the third which saw Craig Adams pick up an instigator penalty in the last five minutes, an automatic one-game suspension that means he'll miss Game 4.

It was interesting that the Flyers, who could be regarded as the victims of most of the chaos, were onboard, at least as far as most of the shenanigans were concerned.

"I think there's going to be people on both sides of the fence. Personally, I think it's good," said Flyers playoff scoring ace Daniel Briere. "That's the way hockey should be. It's intense. Players are passionate, coaches are passionate, fans are passionate. This is what it's all about. You come to a game, you want to see passionate teams go at it.

"You don't want a boring game, with nothing going on. I think people that paid a price to come watch a playoff game, that's what they want to see. I really think it's a good thing. There's a fine line there, where there's a couple examples of things that went a little too far, but overall, I think it's a good thing for hockey to see players care, coaches care, fans care, the way you do in this series."

Flyers winger Scott Hartnell, who fought Craig Adams after another incident late in the third period, had no problem with what went down.

"I'm a big person who thrives on physical play. If I'm not emotionally involved in a game, I'm ineffective. I think that goes for our whole hockey club," he said. "You see guys that are finishing checks legally, keeping our hands down, it's great to see. I think back to that first period of last game. I think that was one of the best periods of hockey I've been involved in. The goals, the scraps, Kimmo dropping the gloves -- in 12 years I haven't seen that guy with a heartbeat over 140 -- and the guy's over there scrapping with a tough guy like Letang. It's great to see. When guys are being called out, they're sticking up for each other. It's great."

If TV ratings are any indication, the fans agree.

Ratings on NBC were up 50% in overnight ratings on the weekend and the Pens-Flyers series had the best overnight rating for a quarterfinal game in 11 years. It was the best rating for a non-final game in a decade.

This has been the most-watched series on TSN, with average audiences of more than 1.4 million.

Unfortunately for everybody, it doesn't look like it's going to last long.

"There's a little bit of shock and disbelief, disappointment in the situation," said Penguins coach Dan Bylsma Monday. "To a man, we haven't played well, haven't done well, and they've exploited every opportunity they've gotten."

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


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