PITTSBURGH - Last Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers may have been a preview of things to come for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Here's hoping it was a learning experience.
The Flyers won the game 3-2 on a last-second overtime goal. They rallied from a 2-0 deficit and were helped by the Penguins' willingness to give them power play chances.
There was psychological warfare involved, and the Flyers won that as well as the game.
They irritated the Penguins into taking retaliatory penalties. If the teams meet again the playoffs, the Flyers will try the same strategy.
The Penguins have to handle it better than they did last Sunday.
As difficult as it is to stifle emotions and skate away, that's exactly what the Penguins have to do.
The Flyers will try to goad them into penalties. Nobody does it better.
You saw how aggravated Chris Kunitz had become. He was grinding his glove and elbow pad into the face of Philadelphia's Scott Hartnell.
Hartnell came away with marks on his face, but he also had a big grin after scoring the game-winning goal.
The Flyers will gladly trade a few bumps and bruises for power play opportunities.
They'll especially go after Evgeni Malkin, who has a history of allowing frustration to get the better of him in a chippy game.
"He's good for a couple (penalties) per game if you hit him and play him tight," Hartnell said after Sunday's game.
You can be certain that will be part of the Flyers plan in the two remaining regular season games in Pittsburgh. It will be even more of an emphasis if the teams meet in a playoff series.
Hartnell has that goofy Hanson brothers hair, and you'll be seeing plenty of him if a Philadelphia-Pittsburgh series happens.
"He got the other team rattled," Flyers linemate Claude Giroux said. "That's what he does."
There's nothing new about it. Darius Kasparaitis, then with the New York Islanders, once spent a playoff series irritating Mario Lemieux.
Dale Hunter, the current coach of the Washington Capitals, made his living playing that kind of game.
The Penguins just have be ready for it, and they have to be smart enough to resist the temptation to respond.
The best revenge is exacted on the scoreboard.
Mapping the plan
It's interesting to watch how the staff is putting together the power play with Sidney Crosby back in the lineup.
The coaches don't want to tamper with success too much. The power play has been good this season, and that includes the 60 games that Crosby missed.
But who wouldn't want to add another world-class offensive talent to that unit?
Crosby started out on the point when he returned, but he's been in other spots as well. Other members of the power play unit have shifted around as well.
Crosby seems to have embraced the idea of not having set roles and moving the personnel around.
"We're definitely getting a feel for where everybody is out there and we're much better when we're moving around, not stationary and we're really keeping penalty kills guessing," Crosby said.
"It doesn't matter who's in what spot. I think we all have strengths to kind of fit each spot. As long as we focus on shooting the puck and make sure we're strong around the net and getting rebounds, I think our skill will kind of take care of itself."
When the Penguins beat Nashville 5-1 on Thursday night, Marc-Andre Fleury became the first goalie to reach 40 wins in the NHL this season.
Yet it seems unlikely Fleury will be one of the contenders for the Vezina Trophy for goaltending excellence.
No Penguins goalie has ever won the award. Byslma believes Fleury deserves to be considered.
"I don't know why he's not mentioned," Bylsma said. "I don't know why he's not given those accolades."
It's actually fairly easy to figure that out. The Penguins are an explosive offensive team. They don't rely on stingy goaltending the way some other teams must.
For example, goalie Henrik Lundqvist is considered a major part of the New York Rangers' success.
The NHL general managers vote on the Vezina, and they look closely at statistics. Goals-against average and save percentage trump wins, with the belief that victories are influenced more by the rest of the team than a goalie's individual stats are.
"It's no mistake that he's gotten to 40 wins before anyone else," Bylsma said. "There's a lot more to his goaltending that just us having a good team. He's been very good back there."
The week ahead
After the second straight weekend of back-to-back games, the Penguins have a Tuesday-Thursday home-and-home with the New York Islanders, then continue that trip by visiting Buffalo on Friday.
Remember the ridiculous brawling with the Islanders happened last year in February. It couldn't happen again, could it?
Doubtful the Penguins would want to risk injuries or suspensions this late in the regular season.