The Flyers have a long tradition of griping about officiating. Judging by their public posture over the years, no one in the orange-and-black has ever deserved a single moment in the shameful confines of the penalty box. They wuz framed - over and over and over.
This felt different, somehow.
Peter Laviolette is the first Flyers coach in memory to talk to reporters after they've finished interviewing players in the locker room. This may seem insignificant to the average fan, but it means the coach has a chance to review some key plays on videotape - and to cool off a bit - before taking questions on a game.
So it also means the coach's message is never delivered before he has time to gather his thoughts. And Laviolette's two-part message after yesterday's tough, 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins was fascinating indeed.
Part 1: The officials stuck it to the home team. Part 2: The Flyers will be able to beat their bitter cross-state rivals (and defending Stanley Cup champions) "when it counts."
Statements like that tend to be recalled when these teams inevitably collide in the playoffs. Clearly, Laviolette is more concerned with what his players think today than with what Penguins fans think in May. That was the whole point of his postgame performance.
It must be said up front that the Penguins have been to the Flyers these last few years what the Cowboys once were and have become again to the Eagles. They are part rival and part Moby Dick. To get where they want to go, the Flyers have to get through, over, or around Sidney Crosby and his pals.
Two years ago, the teams played a tough series in the conference finals, with the Penguins eliminating the injury-ravaged Flyers. Last year, after changing coaches in midseason, the Penguins knocked the Flyers out with relative ease in the very first round, then went on to win the Cup.
So, the Flyers had lost ground even before their awful start this year cost coach John Stevens his job. Now Laviolette is trying to do what Dan Bylsma did last year in Pittsburgh. He's taking over an underachieving team, trying to get it to buy into his philosophy, and hoping it all clicks in time for a postseason run.
"You need some luck," Crosby said of the Penguins' adjustment. "It's not a fun transition. The biggest thing for us was how fast we adjusted. Our systems were all new, but the guys were really focused on adjusting as soon as you can. Try to get those growing pains out of the way within basically the first week. We really adjusted quickly and got on a roll."
The Flyers took a little more than a week to get their bearings after Laviolette replaced Stevens on Dec. 4. They won just two of their first 10 games. But they were 11-3-1 since then and climbing steadily up through the standings. Yesterday brought another chance to measure themselves against the Penguins - on national TV, no less.
Crosby said he saw increasing similarities between these Flyers and the Carolina team that won a Cup under Laviolette.
"They like to get their D involved in the play and they like to play a fast-paced type of game," Crosby said. "They won a Stanley Cup playing that type of hockey. [The Flyers] are able to play that kind of game. Not every team is able to. They have a lot of skill and a lot of guys who can skate and they're adjusting to that still, to his style of play."
Laviolette agreed, which is why he was so pointed in his postgame comments. The game turned on a strange early call. Mike Richards' dazzling goal was erased because the referees said the whistle had blown due to a Simon Gagne high-stick of Evgeni Malkin - even though no one seems to have heard the whistle or to have seen a referee raise an arm before Richards scored.
"I guess I'm frustrated because for the last month and a half, we've been preaching discipline, preaching staying out of the box, and our players have bought into that," Laviolette said.
"Going back and looking at that game, there are just too many penalties that never happened. . . . Simon Gagne didn't high-stick anybody."
It is a fine line to walk, complaining about officiating. Players can easily accept bad calls as an excuse, and that doesn't lead to anything good.
In this case, though, it really felt like Laviolette had the big picture in mind. He wants his players to keep buying into his philosophy and needs them to write this one off as a result of a bad call or two. He needs them to keep playing this way, especially against elite teams like the Penguins.
And especially "when it counts."