- Rob Parent
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So let's say, for the sake of yet another riotous argument, that the Flyers and the Senators do what their respective bosses swear up, down and under their collective breath that they won't do Friday night -- let the game get out of hand.
Since Gary Bettman let the secret memo out of the bag last week, would that mean...
A) Ken Hitchcock and Jacques Martin have their wrists slapped and their piggy banks smashed, or vice versa?
B) The Senators are forbidden from ever putting broadcaster Rob Ray on the ice again?
C) Bob Clarke's beeline to the visitors locker room at Wachovia Center hits a speed bump this time ... and its name is Colin Campbell?
D) All of the above below-board acts.
Imagine the multiple plotline choices for this next episode of NHL Blue, "The Thrilla in Phila." A rocking rematch between that most penalized of clashing couples, the Flyers and the Senators.
Now get real.
"Nothing's going to happen," said Clarke, the Flyers' recently contrite general manager. "We're just going to play the game. But if the coaches are stupid enough to send the players out to fight, then somebody's going to get hurt. And that's what Martin did the last time they came in."
What followed on that March 5 night, the last time these teams met for a casual romp, was a record-breaking mess of fights that totaled 409 minutes of penalties over five separate stoppages over the course of 32 seconds. That boosted the game total to a NHL-record 419 penalty minutes.
That didn't include the two minutes it took for Clarke to stroll down the hallway after the game in search of Jacques. Or the several other names that Martin was called that night.
"It doesn't bother me if a player says something, because a player has to go on the ice and answer the bell," Clarke said. "But when coaches or a G.M. like myself says stuff, that's really wrong. We don't have to go out on the ice. It's easy to be tough while sitting up in the stands or standing behind a bench."
Perhaps that's why Clarke called Martin a "gutless puke" after the March 5 brawlgame. For this redeux, however, league security and hopefully everyone's grip on sanity will be tighter.
Campbell, the NHL's dean of discipline who rarely shied away from sending the occasional goon on the ice when he coached the Rangers, will be on hand to run interference. Other league powers will keep a steadily trained camera eye on the proceedings, and third or fourth reminder warnings will likely be issued to both coaches and management teams.
And then there's that recent memo to remember ...
"It was a very straight reminder of no horsing around," said Hitchcock, the Flyers head coach. "The sense of humor is not very high right now in the league office."
But all that chaos is (sort of) forgotten now, both teams promising their Friday night fights will be conducted within the rules of gentlemanly order and the unwritten laws of hockey dignity. If there is such a thing.
Besides, both teams have enough to fight through as it is.
Though the Senators have been winning their share of games lately -- unbeaten in four heading into Philadelphia -- their concerns are nothing new. As it is every year with Ottawa, it has the most talented team of skaters in the East, but the most questionable of goaltending situations.
Incumbent starter Patrick Lalime has had a mediocre time of it this season, and is sidelined until at least the start of the playoffs. But the Flyers, skillfully spanked by the Sens the past two playoff years, have that same kind of net concern haunting them. A past and present specter, but not the only thing to worry about.
Among the fights Philly is waging ...
Jeremy Roenick is still battling to regain his form three games into a return from the injured list with a broken jaw. Ditto Eric Desjardins and Keith Primeau, both of whom returned for a 2-0 win in Montreal on Thursday night after absences of 21 and 32 games, respectively.
Can't have enough of those injured guys back, but are so few regular season games enough warm-up time for what promises to be an Eastern Conference playoff war so closely contested that it features no rest for any weary team?
"Of course it's going to be enough time," said Desjardins, "because it has to be enough. I'll find a way to do it. For me going in there, I'll have to believe it's going to be enough."
Meanwhile, what's a Flyers playoff probe without a nervous nod at goaltending?
After a season of steadiness, apparently anointed playoff goalie Robert Esche just played his two worst games of the year. In consecutive losses to the unstable Islanders and ridiculous Rangers, Esche wasn't only battling the puck, he wasn't seeing it.
And now Sean Burke, maligned in Philadelphia after a few so-so outings in the wake of his acquisition from Phoenix, goes to Montreal on Thursday and decides to pitch a terrific shutout.
Goaltending controversy, anyone?
"I've played 16 years and I came in here just to do what I do and try to give our team good goaltending when I play," said Burke. "I really can't say or evaluate what that (starting) decision is going to be. I don't want to be a guy just considered to be there in case. I'd like to be considered a guy who will play and be a big part of it."
Fair enough, but why does he play his two best games as a Flyer in this tough region of Eastern Canada?
"I think if you look at it, I play all the road games," Burke deadpanned. "I've been a road warrior, and to the fans' delight in Philadelphia. I don't think they're too sorry to see me play on the road."
Ah, those Philly sports fans. They've been waiting so long for any semblance of postseason hockey hope in goal, they'd change their booing ways at the first real sign that either Esche or Burke or both could provide stability.
Considering the number of bumps, bruises and celebrities still in recovery mode, however, mere competence in goal probably won't be enough for the Flyers to make much of a playoff splash.
They need a quick fix. A medicinal motivation. Something to feel good about.
Maybe another chance to punch it out with the Senators is just what the Flyers need, after all.
Rob Parent of the Delaware County (Pa.) Times is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
11dScott Burnside and Craig Custance