It seemed like a good idea at the time.

Scott Hartnell was tired. He couldn't catch Tampa Bay's Ryan Malone, who was closing in on Flyers goalie Marty Biron. So he did the first thing that came to mind.

He threw his glove at Malone, giving the Lightning veteran a penalty shot with 16 seconds remaining in a tie game.

The one-glove look was silly on Michael Jackson. It was positively stupefying in that situation. But, hey, everybody enjoys a good glove story, right?

The difference between laughing and crying was the fraction of an inch of puck that clipped Biron's right skate. Because Biron stopped two breakaways in a row, deflecting the penalty shot harmlessly wide, Hartnell's glove toss was a funny story instead of a tearjerker. Hartnell's gaffe cost Biron some hypertension, but it didn't cost the Flyers the game.

"I went over after the game and said thank you," Hartnell said.

Maybe it's time for the four pro sports teams in town to break out the rulebooks and make sure their players know what's going on.

Just a few weeks ago, Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb made himself the butt of jokes and object of scorn by admitting he didn't know the NFL's overtime procedures. That wasn't good, but it didn't have much to do with the Eagles' awful 13-13 tie with the Cincinnati Bengals.

Hartnell's mistake was more understandable because it came in the heat of a big play. At the same time, it was more serious, because it really could have cost the Flyers a game they had led by 3-1 midway through the third period.

"It didn't really cross my mind at the time," Hartnell said of the rule that resulted in Malone's penalty shot. "I was at the end of a long shift. It was out of desperation. Looking back, it was kind of stupid."

Yeah, kind of.

"It was not a very smart play," Flyers coach John Stevens said.

Did Hartnell know the rule?

"He knows now," Stevens said.

The shame of it is that Hartnell played a really strong game. He screened goaltender Mike Smith on Jeff Carter's first goal and helped create Carter's second by pushing the puck through the crease.

This was a night the Flyers had to get two points. They'd lost two games in a row. Tampa Bay is not exactly the team that won the Stanley Cup a few years back. After playing even with the Lightning for two periods, the Flyers scored twice in the third period to take a lead.

It was bad that Vinny Prospal got a cheap goal on a bouncing puck that went over Biron's shoulder. It was really bad that Biron mishandled a routine rebound, letting it roll onto Steve Downie's stick for an all-too-easy tying goal.

In a game the Flyers had to have, it seemed ominous that all three Lightning goals were scored by ex-Flyers. Mark Recchi, the Jamie Moyer of hockey, scored the first one.

So it would have been gut-punch bad to give the game away on a bonehead play in the final seconds, especially since Biron did a nice job to smother Malone's initial breakaway. Hartnell, trailing the play with a bare left hand, almost knocked the rebound into the net.

"I made the save and the puck got into Scottie's feet and almost bounced into the net," Biron said. "I was thinking how bad it would be to make the save and have the puck wind up in the net anyway."

He'd been too focused on Malone and the puck to notice Hartnell's glove soaring through the air. So it was a bit of a shock that he had to stop Malone again.

"It's part of the job," Biron said, generously.

Malone took his time coming down the ice, leaving Hartnell to hang over the boards whispering, "Save it, Marty, save it." As Biron coasted forward to cut down the shooting angles, Malone cut right and shot left.

"I don't know if it was going to go wide," Biron said. "I got a toe on it."

In some kind of karmic turnabout, Malone crashed into Biron well away from the net, and right in front of a referee, in the overtime. That interference penalty was at least as ill-advised as Hartnell's glove toss. It wound up costing the Lightning the game, as Mike Richards scored the game-winner on a gorgeous pass from Kimmo Timonen.

After a 4-3 win, players joke about a goofy play like Hartnell's over celebratory music when they very easily could have been glaring at him in a silent dressing room.

"I'm sure the boys will be giving it to me for a while," Hartnell said. "I'm just glad I'm not the goat."

He wasn't, because Biron made a glove save with his skate.