PITTSBURGH - Scott Hartnell knows he is at his best when his floppy, red curls are covering his face, his helmet is off, and his 6-2 frame is wrestling any Penguins player to the ice.
Hartnell, who turns 30 on the night of Game 4, is the very definition of an agitator. His antics - from the trash-talking to the hits - make Matt Cooke's games look like child's play.
In an Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup that has a history of biting, hair-pulling and blood-stained ice, Hartnell fits in. In fact, following an All-Star season in which he finished tied for sixth in the league with 37 goals, Hartnell may define the series' tone himself: a blend of brawn and skill.
On Wednesday night, Hartnell isn't quite sure what to expect from the Penguins. But he will stick to his game plan.
"I'm sure there will be a lot of blood," Hartnell said. "It's going to be a battle. It's going to be a chess match. The emotion is going to be there. The intensity is going to be there. Everything is going to be there.
"They dislike us just as much as we dislike them."
For Hartnell, that game plan absolutely includes scoring. Playing with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, he undoubtedly will have opportunities. Some say Hartnell, who saw more bench than ice during the first seven games of the season, was the recipient of a gift from coach Peter Laviolette by being placed on the Flyers' top line.
The easy, clichéd misconception is that Hartnell picked up Giroux' scraps around the net all season long.
Yes, part of Hartnell's season was a product of his talented environment. But even the world's best teammates do not increase your shooting percentage to a career-high 15.9 percent.
The other part of the equation is that Hartnell's physicality, digging in the corners for pucks and battling for space in front of the net, created additional scoring chances for his linemates. In fact, toward the end of the season, teams began to key on Hartnell specifically, limiting his time and space.
That physicality will have an added dimension against Pittsburgh. The Flyers think they can knock the Penguins off their game by pounding them from the puck drop. And that's not even considering Sidney Crosby's fragile state.
Hartnell, for one, enjoys that game. But he's banking the Penguins' top-flight talent doesn't.
"Personally, when I get hit or get physically involved in the game, everything comes a step quicker for me," Hartnell said. "To be successful, you've got to hit those guys. You've got to hit their skilled 'D.' Their defensemen might not want to go in the corner for the puck. You've got to make it hard on them every chance you get."
"There will be a lot of hits," Hartnell promised.
Evgeni Malkin is the Flyers' prime target. Malkin can play physically, but the Flyers want to frustrate him. Among the league's top 25 scorers, only Pittsburgh teammate James Neal had more penalty minutes than Malkin's 70. The quirky Russian and likely Hart Trophy winner had 12 penalty minutes against the Flyers this season alone.
Malkin's third-period penalties on March 18 turned that Sunday afternoon game in the Flyers' favor. Pittsburgh lost, 3-2, in overtime.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, there is a fine line of discipline - one that will need to be skated sharply under the watchful eye of each new official. Traditionally, the playoff environment is one in which the whistle remains in the referee's pocket. One power play can swing a series.
With Hartnell, that line is usually blurred and bent on a nightly basis.
"I think the team that lacks the discipline is going to have a tough time," Hartnell said. "There are going to be bruises after every game. You just hope you win so they don't hurt as bad."