Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Tough Brotherly Love

In the pasteurized, homogenized, packaged, focus grouped, marketed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life NHL of Gary Bettman, every once in a while hockey fans get a glimpse into what made hockey the sort of sport where rivalries matter.

Last night, the Philadelphia Flyers administered a dose of reality to the Pittsburgh Penguins, abusing them 8-2 in front of an appreciative crowd in the City of Brotherly Love.

Love was hardly on display last night as the clubs racked up 156 minutes in penalties, including four fights -- the first of which took place 20 seconds into the game -- and seven misconduct penalties, and even had the good feelings spill over into the hallway after the game.

On their tour of western Canada, the Penguins were the subject of some of the most relentless hero worship among the media in recent history -- the sort reserved for war heroes or the Pope. One would have thought, reading the paeans to all things Sidney Crosby, that the precocious forward dispensed loaves and fishes to the assembled multitudes in western Canada arenas during warmups and raised the lame during intermissions of contests. Even in his wake, it was as if he'd gone forth and ascended into heaven instead of having returned to the East coast.

Well, western teams might have had their first glimpse of Crosby and the apostles...uh, Penguins, but teams in the Atlantic -- who have had a couple of years to see the show and read the press -- don't seem so intimidated. The Penguins are now 3-8-1 against the Atlantic Division this season, and with 20 games left to play with their intradivision rivals, it might be early to print playoff tickets.

The Flyers showed why last night. Not one, but two hat tricks (courtesy of Joffrey Lupul and R.J. Umberger), and a thorough bludgeoning that had Crosby sitting on the bench for the last eight minutes of the game in an expression of "no mas" from head coach Michel Therrien, who whined after the game about the Flyers running up the score.

This isn't over, by any means -- the teams meet next on January 24th in Philadelphia, and this is just one game. But, after the over-the-top coverage of Crosby's pilgrimage to the western provinces, there might be fans in 28 other NHL cities this morning who are quietly appreciative of the Flyers' applying a dose of reality to matters.