PITTSBURGH – If Philadelphia and Pittsburgh meet in the playoffs - and Pennsylvania's two big cities would be equally excited and nervous beyond belief if it happened - the Flyers probably won't care if they have home-ice advantage or not.
They certainly seem to have the edge in Pittsburgh.
Scott Hartnell, the Flyers player that Penguins fans most dislike, and Claude Giroux scored 47 seconds apart in the second period and Philadelphia completed a three-game sweep in Pittsburgh by rallying for a 5-2 victory at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday night.
The key victory - the Flyers were 5-1-4 in their previous 10, the rival Penguins were 8-2-0 with four consecutive shootout wins - gave Philadelphia a four-point edge over Pittsburgh (102-98) in the Atlantic Division race with a game in hand. The Flyers -- who are also three points up on Washington in the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference -- have six games to play, the Penguins five.
"We got excited today, It was a little bit of a playoff game for us, and probably for them, too, so it was a lot of fun," said Ville Leino, who scored twice in the third period. "We needed to be desperate to win this game. We didn't want that No. 1 to slide off our hands."
Because the top three seeds go to division winners, finishing first or second in the division means the difference between being the No. 1 seed in the conference and the No. 4 seed -- which likely will result in a difficult matchup with the Lightning. The Penguins play at Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Before the game, Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said he wasn't sure if his resilient team, which is 19-12-5 without injured star Sidney Crosby, could catch the Flyers without winning Tuesday. Now they'll find out.
"I don't think that we play hockey to win the division. We play hockey to win the playoffs," forward Maxime Talbot said. "I never celebrated winning the season."
The Penguins came in with 24 home-ice victories in their first season in their new arena, the second-most in the NHL, but they've yet to beat their big rival there. The Flyers won a pair of 3-2 decisions in October, waited five months to play there again, then won once more as Leino finished off the Penguins.
Leino had goals in only one of his last 15 games - he scored three times against Atlanta on March 12 - before connecting twice in slightly more than three minutes for his 18th and 19th of the season.
The Flyers set a franchise record with their 25th road victory; they are 25-9-4 away from the Wells Fargo Center.
"Three-and-0 here in Pittsburgh, we can be confident that we can win on the road, especially in this building, if needed in the playoffs," Hartnell said.
After the morning skate, Daniel Carcillo and Hartnell both called it the Flyers' biggest game of the season. They played like it was.
Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky withstood goals by Alex Kovalev, only his second in 15 games with Pittsburgh, and Tyler Kennedy to make 25 saves and outplay Marc-Andre Fleury - already chosen as the Penguins' MVP. It was only the third time in his last 15 games Fleury has allowed more than three goals. Fleury had a 1.68 goals-against average in his previous eight starts.
"It's not over definitely," Fleury said of the division race. "But it makes it a little harder on us to come back."
Bobrovsky is 3-1-1 against Pittsburgh, which was 0-for-4 on the power play and is in a 3-for-59 slump with the man advantage.
The Penguins took two inopportune penalties in the first two periods, and the Flyers capitalized on both. Just as Matt Niskanen's holding penalty expired at 15:56 of the first, Jeff Carter got his stick on Braydon Coburn's shot from the right point. The puck struck the left post before caroming off Fleury's right skate and into the net for Carter's 35th.
After Kennedy made it 2-1 midway through the second, the momentum swung quickly. Not long after that, Kennedy had the puck on his stick and plenty of open ice, but used too much of it and couldn't get off a shot while skating past the net.
"At that point, if we had made it 3-1, there's lot of energy in building, and 3-1 would have been a pretty good lead to have," Bylsma said.
With defenseman Paul Martin off for interference, Hartnell then shot the puck along the goal line and inside the far post at 13:45 for his 21st of the season.
Giroux gave the Flyers their first lead at 14:32 with a wrist shot from the slot after deking defenseman Kris Letang; it was his 25th goal of the season and fifth in six games against Pittsburgh. Giroux was a big reason the Flyers won the season series 4-1-1.
"Two goals in that short period of time -- instead of being down one, you're up one going into the third period on a high and that's what we needed," Hartnell said.
Without the injured Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have relied on discipline, determination - and Fleury's goaltending - to win. They didn't have enough of any of those.
"it was more freewheeling than we wanted it to be, we allowed it become more of a skill game, which they certainly have," Bylsma said. "I'm disappointed that's the kind of game it turned into."
The Flyers beat a contending team for the first time since a 4-2 victory over the Rangers on Feb. 20. They are 16-3-2 in the Atlantic, the NHL's best intradivision record.
"I think we've done a good job of responding, for the most part, when our back's to the wall," defenseman Sean O'Donnell said. "I just wish sometimes we wouldn't wait until our back is to the wall."