RAMBUNCTIOUS is as rambunctious does, or something like that, and this Flyers game against the Pittsburgh Penguins offered the entire Scott Hartnell panoply: in order, roughing, slashing, roughing, goal, goal.

After the game, Hartnell's face was red and raw, as if abraded by sandpaper, likely from a combination of exhaustion and the number that the Penguins' Chris Kunitz attempted to do on him in an extended, Hartnell-induced pileup involving all manner of flailing arms, legs and linesmen.

Or, as goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov said when asked how Hartnell looked, "Good. He got a couple marks on his face. I call him Chief right now."

Along the way, Hartnell inadvertently clipped teammate Zac Rinaldo with his stick and caused a five-stitch cut in Rinaldo's mouth, all while attempting to instigate something or other. The Flyers played a pretty good first period against a Penguins team that had won 11 straight games, and a sleepwalking second period, and a rousing third period, and Hartnell was there throughout, trying to raise the team's intensity level, again and again, against its modern blood rival.

Oh, yes, and he scored the tying goal early in the third period and he scored the winning goal at the very end of overtime - 1 hour, 4 minutes, 59 and 1/10ths of a second after the first puck was dropped.

Flyers 3, Penguins 2. It seemed like a playoff game.

"It was a playoff game," Hartnell said. "Odds are, we're going to end up with these guys in the first round. We got a point on them tonight, one step closer to getting home ice. We play them twice more in Pittsburgh. It's not going to be easy. A big confidence boost for everybody in here."

The standings are not yet set in the NHL Eastern Conference, and things could still fall about three or four different ways for the Flyers, depending upon who gets hot and who cools off in the next couple of weeks. But as things stand today, the Flyers and Penguins are like boxers eyeing each other warily. Could you imagine a first-round playoff series of that caliber, and history, and everything?

Could you imagine such magnificent hell?

"It's what it's all about, playoff hockey," Hartnell said. "You've got to beat not only one good team to get to where you want to be, you've got to beat two or three good teams. If it's first round, we've got to go through Pittsburgh, or if it's second round or third round, it doesn't really matter. This team is going to be right there at the end. If we want to be there, we're going to have to go through them.

"First round, we'll take them on with open arms and try to beat them in a seven-game series."

Hartnell has become such a fascinating character. People don't seem to want to recognize that his two goals yesterday got him to 35 goals for the season, an elite number. He has exhibited the skill this season that so many thought he always had, but which was diminished somehow.

But with this guy, it is a total package - and the disruptive nature of his style, and his willingness to agitate, just add to his impact on a game. For example, Hartnell said that Pens star Evgeni Malkin is "good for a couple of [penalties] a game if you hit him and play him tight."

According to Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, the disruptions were the difference. He said, "I think really the extracurricular stuff was the turning point in the game. It was a situation where you know they targeted players after the whistle and didn't get penalized. I think that allowed them to get back in the game."

Or, as Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said, "We needed to do that. We need to engage in the game."

Or, as teammate Claude Giroux said, "He loves to get every guy on the other team rattled. That's what he does. He likes to get in their face. His game is not pretty, but it's effective. I'm having a lot of fun playing with him. Just like tonight, he finds a way to get the job done."

Early in the third period, from an extreme angle, he roofed a shot over Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to tie the game at 2-2. Then, late in overtime - really, really late - he rifled a shot from the slot over Fleury to win it. 0.9 seconds remained on the clock as the Flyers celebrated their comeback from a 2-0 deficit.

"I was watching [the clock]," Hartnell said. "I saw there was maybe 10 seconds or less when I jumped on the ice. I knew if I got a chance, I just had to shoot it quick . . . "

He did. They won.

An April blueprint begins to be sketched.


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