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Penguins, Flyers Fight: Why It's Wrong to Blame Anyone for Sunday's Line Brawl

PITTSBURGH, PA - JANUARY 07:  Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins during the NHL game against the New Jersey Devils at Consol Energy Center on January 7, 2012 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Devils defeated the Penguins 3-1.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Tim MackayCorrespondent IApril 2, 2012

First of all, this whole line-brawl thing is awesome. 

From a hockey fan's perspective, nothing is more entertaining then two very talented teams who happen to absolutely despise each other add fuel to the metaphorical fire.

Add that Pens' and Flyers' fans hate each other equally as much as the players, and you've got yourself a good old-fashioned rivalry. 

A good old-fashioned rivalry that will be taken to the next level when they face off in the first round of the NHL playoffs. 

It's spectacular to watch and it's undeniably entertaining. You can see and read a more detailed report, here. 

However, with Peter Laviolette's tirade, described by NBC's Pierre McGuire as "the maddest I've ever seen him", fans and players have been assigning blame left, right and center.

"Those guys hadn't been out there 12 minutes," said Laviolette in a post-game interview. "It was a gutless move by their coach. It's gutless."

Sidney Crosby piped back at Laviolette saying that Danny Briere, who was hit by Pittsburgh's Joe Vitale which incited the concluding brawl, shouldn't have been put in a vulnerable position. Crosby's argument being that skilled guys shouldn't be on the ice at the end of a chippy game, which seems quite ironic coming from the Pens captain. While the game featured several "gutless" plays from both teams there was nothing overtly malicious or aggressive. 

Bylsma might be the easiest to blame for the whole debacle, but it would be downright wrong to blame any of the players from either team. 

First, Vitale's check was clean in every way, shape and form. Shoulder to shoulder, no contact with Briere's head and that's what the 4th-liner gets paid for. It's his job and he did it within both the written and unwritten rules of hockey. 

Some, namely Penguins fans, might blame the Flyers for going after Vitale. But the Flyers knew that they were playing a Pittsburgh team that they will almost certainly play in the playoffs. For a team that plays a tough, physical style, the Flyers needed to show the Penguins that they weren't going to let a 4th-line energy guy go after their skilled forwards. 

So, none of the players should be at fault. And neither should Bylsma. It wasn't like Engelland, Vitale, and Asham went out there just to start a brawl. Vitale laid down a very clean, solid body-check. Nothing dirty, nothing malicious. While I understand Laviolette's argument, Bylsma clearly didn't send out his tough guys just to fight.  

The whole event came out of two tough, proud teams looking to send a message to their opponents before the playoffs. Not one party stepped over the line and it was simply an example of old-time hockey where players stick up for their teammates.  

And isn't that what makes hockey so fun?

If Sunday was any indication, the Pens-Flyers series is going to be the most fun Pennsylvania's had in ages. 

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