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Rich Hofmann: Flyers-Devils series tense, but no nastiness yet

USUALLY BY NOW, three games into a playoff series involving the Flyers and pretty much anybody, hatreds and animosities either are simmering actively or have already boiled over. Primal viciousness has normally been committed by this time and warnings have been quietly issued by the officiating supervisor working the series. Injuries usually have been inflicted in the pursuit of the silver and revenge has been plotted.

USUALLY BY NOW, three games into a playoff series involving the Flyers and pretty much anybody, hatreds and animosities either are simmering actively or have already boiled over. Primal viciousness has normally been committed by this time and warnings have been quietly issued by the officiating supervisor working the series. Injuries usually have been inflicted in the pursuit of the silver and revenge has been plotted.

This year, though, not yet. Through three games, Flyers-Devils has not been about outsized aggression, not at all. It has been close, and there has been some hitting - mostly in the Flyers' Game 3 victory - but the series so far has been quieter than usual.

It seems to be more about tension than anything.

"It is tense," said Ian Laperriere, the Flyers' most persistent hitter. "It's been physical but it's been clean. You look at the other series and they've been a little more dirty. This has been clean. We take a lot of penalties, but it's mostly been hooking and stuff.

"Pretty clean so far," he added. "But you never know how it's going to turn out."

At which point, Laperriere kind of smiled. He has been around for long enough, in enough places, that he appreciates springtime savagery. It is a game he does not mind playing, it would seem.

But, as he said, "Maybe we've gotten smarter. In the NHL today, you can't just go out there and try to take everybody's head off. You just can't. We're already in the box too much as it is - the last thing we need is more penalties."

In the last decade, some of the toughest Flyers series have been against Toronto. One of them, in 2003, left Jeremy Roenick looking as if he'd been hit by a shovel after Darcy Tucker and Robert Svehla got done with him. Another, in 2004, was the one where Tucker viciously laid out Sami Kapanen, and a dazed Kapanen kept standing up and falling down until teammate

Keith Primeau fish-hooked him back to the bench - a long, valiant sequence that ended with Roenick scoring the series-clinching goal.

There have been others that had their moments of similar brutality. This year, though, not yet.

"I think it's been physical, but more physical puck-battlewise," Mike Richards said. "I've been in more physical series when it came to open-ice hits and trying to take each other's heads off. But they have a physically strong team - all of their players are very strong with the puck - so this has been physical for us in a different aspect."

Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said the reason there haven't been any extracurriculars so far might be because of a warning from the officiating staff that the initiator would be the player penalized and not just the retaliator, as so often happens.

"We've been warned about after-the-whistle and that the first guy's going [to the penalty box]," Laviolette said. "We haven't been undisciplined the other way, in a retaliatory manner. They keep telling us . . . that the first one to punch in a scrum is going to go. Maybe that's why it's been limited."

After the whistle, he said, "is when it can get ugly. Between the whistles, it's pretty hard out there. Guys are taking runs at each other and there's a lot of hitting."

If you go by the hitting stats on the official score sheet - the compilation of which, admittedly, is more of an art than a science in some arenas - Flyers-Devils has featured among the fewest hits of the eight playoff series. Only Vancouver-Los Angeles might have seen fewer hits per game, and several of the series have seen a ton more.

But in Game 3 on Sunday, the numbers jumped. It went like this: 37 combined hits in Game 1, 36 in Game 2, 76 in Game 3 (40 for the Flyers, 36 for the Devils). It would not seem coincidental that the Flyers' best stretch of play in the series was in the third period of the game with a lot of hitting.

Was it attrition?

"Maybe," Richards said. "But I really think we just turned more pucks over with pressure. Then again, they did it, too."

Was it?

"I'm not sure," Laviolette said. "Our team skated real well [Sunday] night. We were quick to pucks. Skating, to me, is always a big determining factor in games, one way or the other. You skate well, you have a good chance of winning . . . When you're skating, you're physical."

Lappy?

"I don't know," Laperriere said. "I really think the play has been very even."

It really has been. It really has been less about aggression overall than tension. There has really been no furious line changing to get certain matchups. There has been no wild hitting. There are no obvious grudges being forged.

It is interesting, different. Both of these teams seem more worried about themselves than they are about each other.

Send e-mail to

hofmanr@phillynews.com,

or read his blog, The Idle Rich, at

http://go.philly.com/theidlerich.

For recent columns go to

http://go.philly.com/hofmann.

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