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Sam Donnellon: Hartnell pours his heart out for Flyers

HE WAS the savior you didn't see coming, unless you put much stock in words spit out in disgust and amid utter futility.

HE WAS the savior you didn't see coming, unless you put much stock in words spit out in disgust and amid utter futility.

"We got to get [in] our minds that this is a beatable hockey team," Scott Hartnell said after the Flyers were pushed to the brink in Game 3 on Tuesday night. "Right now, I think everyone is thinking these guys are way too good, they have too much skill. Screw that. We have to go out there and play Flyers hockey. We're not doing that."

It was the closest thing to a calling-out this team has received in this postseason, even when they nearly spit up a 3-1 lead in games to the Capitals in the first round, even if you count John Stevens' criticism of Steve Downie for his second costly giveaway in as many games after Game 3.

This, though, didn't come from a captain, a coach, or even a core player, and that made it at once noteworthy and easy to dismiss, especially if Hartnell had remained as un-noteworthy as he had been in the first three games of this series.

He did not, of course. He had three assists in the Flyers' 4-2 victory last night, finishing the game as he had started, by creating havoc and occupying Penguins and by skating, skating, skating.

From his first shift, Hartnell skated as if that bush atop his head was burning. Before the game was a minute old, his shot in the slot had been turned away by Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. By the time the period was over, he had two assists.

The last goal, Joffrey Lupul's second into an empty net in the final minute of the game, occurred after Hartnell created a mid-ice mess, the puck flipping over everyone's head until it squirted to Lupul.

"I don't know if the line switch up gave everyone a boost of energy or what," Hartnell said. "But it didn't take long for us to all get clicking."

The truth: This game was coming from Hartnell even if he played with Jim Dowd last night. It's what drives you nuts about the guy. There are nights, like last night, where he shows up as if riding a rocket, bashing into people with thuds that shake the building, squirting out pucks from human masses, making tape-to-tape passes that harken to Clark Gilles.

Then there are those other nights where he seems to be late for every meeting, seems to have the hands of Samuel Dalembert and a stick less potent than that of Abraham Nunez.

He was asked afterward if his words Tuesday factored into last night's effort.

"Yeah," he said. "I didn't want to be done playing right now. Nobody wants to. We're down to the last four teams and we're so close to getting to that final. There are not many opportunities to get that chance. Sure, we're in a big hole, but it's been done before. So why not us?"

There are so many reasons, and everyone knows them. Two of the next three games will be played in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins have been unbeatable of late. The Penguins, after getting outskated for two periods, were within a goal of tying last night's game before Lupul's empty-netter iced it.

But Hartnell's energy, and Stevens' experimentation with the lines, should not be deemed irrelevant. The Flyers, who totaled 18 shots in Game 3, had 17 by the time the first period was over. After that first goal, Philadelphia outshot Pittsburgh, 13-2, in the period, emerging with an unthinkable 3-0 lead over a team that many felt was just too good for them to compete against.

"With all this media hype and all that, 'They're all-star players and this and that,' we might have respected them too much out there," Hartnell said. "And gave them too much room out there. We were very hesitant on our forechecks those first three games. Tonight, we went in there and did our thing. We left the hype behind."

Were the Penguins in Harrisburg by the end of the first period? You might have thought so had they not come out as determined and as resolved as they did in that third period, especially after their first goal seemed to seep through Martin Biron.

But the Flyers held on, held onto that hope Hartnell first expressed the other night, that the difference between these two teams is not the abyss it has seemed at times, but more a matter of gaps, and effort and skating as if your hair is on fire.

"It's amazing how great you feel and how confident you feel when you win a hockey game," Hartnell said. "We've won in Pittsburgh before. That has to be our focus. Everyone is talking about how we can't win in their building.

"It's not going to be easy by any means, but if we get that puck deep and get on them there's no reason we can't get that lead again and keep going and going." *

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