WHEN THE emotion died down and most of the media had left the locker room, Joffrey Lupul was pulling off the last of his sweaty equipment and thinking about what all this really meant.

He had a hat trick, R.J. Umberger had a hat trick, the Flyers had pummeled the Pittsburgh Penguins, 8-2, last night in the Wachovia Center. It was a fight-filled, nasty contest in which the Penguins had a third-period discipline meltdown and the Flyers continued to exact some revenge for the eight-game beating Pittsburgh handed them last season.

The Flyers, coming back from the road with a five-game home losing streak, turned up the engines in practice and made themselves ready for a game that could have swung their season in a downward spiral, especially in the Atlantic Division, where every point and every home game means so much.

There was a lot to be excited about, reason upon reason to point to the things that happened on the ice and say this was a pivotal game for a team at a crossroads.

Lupul, who became the first Flyer to record six points in a game since Eric Lindros on March 1, 1997, thought about all that for a moment. Then he leaned on his dressing-room stall and gave the reality check that might not have come just a few moments before in the clamor of a happy, victorious locker room.

"It's too early for that," he said, "especially after the way we've struggled at home. It's one game. That's all it is.

"[Coach] Johnny Stevens talked about this before the game. He said he really saw something in practice this week, the way we were competing and working in practice and I guess that just boiled over, but what we have to do is put this one behind us.

"It's great, but we've got to put it behind us. It's not going to be that easy the next game. I don't know how many shots I had, I probably had a dozen, and you can count on getting one or two or three [goals]. These games can build bad habits, I think.

"Hopefully we carry it over, especially the emotion from the third. But it's just one game."

Only history will tell if this was a benchmark moment for the Flyers this season. It certainly has all the earmarks of one that can be used as a point of reference.

Pittsburgh defeated the Flyers in all eight games last season. The Penguins have one of the most talented players in the game in Sidney Crosby, they have a pool of talent behind him and they were coming in after stringing together a 7-1 record in the last eight games.

An early fight between Ryan Malone and Jason Smith that could be said was started when Smith slashed Crosby in the last game here, backfired on the Penguins.

Then a line reshuffle by Stevens paid huge dividends when Mike Richards, Umberger and Lupul lit up the building and shut down Crosby even strength.

Crosby's line was a minus-5 even strength, while Richards' line was a plus-12 and made history. Umberger and Lupul were the first two Flyers to score hat tricks in the same game since Tim Kerr and Dave Poulin did it in December 1986 against the Islanders.

It was a game that had everything, and fueled the hatred Flyers fans have developed for the Pens, and Crosby in particular.

Late in the third with the puck behind the net, Crosby somehow tripped Martin Biron to the ice, prompting Biron to call out Crosby and a lively round of "Crosby sucks'' chants.

It was a game that also angered Stevens, who opened his press conference by blasting the Penguins.

"I don't want to hear any more talk about our team and how undisciplined we are,'' he said. "It's ridiculous what they did in the third period, in my opinion. They had one penalty on a play when they could have had two or three, and they had three broken sticks on the ice.

"Every time we do something good, there is another side of the story to take the focus away from what we did. It was a great effort by our hockey team."

To which Pens coach Michel Therrien replied: "Are we talking about the same team that had five players suspended this year? It's a lack of respect to do what he did. You don't send your best power play on the ice at 7-2.''

The game started with Malone picking a fight with Smith, who didn't fall for the revenge factor and made Malone's decision a bad one, especially since it seemed to spark the Flyers more than the Penguins.

The newly formed line of Umberger, Richards and Lupul got right to work. On their first shift, the three combined for hard work and nifty passes and the first of Lupul's goals.

With a passing play in which all three touched the puck at least once, Umberger skated around Robert Scuderi and held the puck long enough to find Lupul driving toward an open net for an easy tap-in past Dany Sabourin.

It was Lupul's first goal in 11 games. Lupul pushed the lead to 2-0 when a rush by the Penguins' Braydon Coburn was broken up. Lupul skated to the loose puck and fired a laser into the net.

It was all going well until Pittsburgh tied the game on a pair of power-play goals by the end of the first.

The Richards-Umberger-Lupul show continued into the second, this time with Umberger finding the net at 8:10. Lupul angled deep into the Penguins' zone but the play was broken up. Umberger got the puck and fired off one leg, with Richards in front. The assist was Richards' 100th career point.

Two minutes later, Umberger's second goal of the night gave the Flyers a 4-2 lead.

After the spate of penalties that cost the Flyers in the first, the scales tipped and Kris Letang was flagged late in the second for roughing and then unsportsmanlike conduct. Mike Knuble scored with 10 seconds left in the period, sending the Flyers into intermission with a 5-2 lead.

In the third period, Sabourin was replaced by Ty Conklin.

In the final 20 minutes, the Penguins lost all composure and the game ended up being a series of fights, Flyer power-play goals and 22 penalties.

Was it a pivotal game?

"It remains to be seen if it's a defining moment," Knuble said. "We caught them a little bit at the end of a big [Western Canadian] swing and they were a tired team a little bit.

"For us, things went well and we showed a lot of togetherness. In a good season there are defining moments and games you can look back on when things kind of change and the group takes the next step. But it's one game. I guess time will tell.'' *