PITTSBURGH — The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins won’t meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
If their paths cross down the line, the theater should be riveting. As usual.
Mark Streit’s backhanded shot from the right circle caromed between Marc-Andre Fleury’s pads 2 minutes, 10 seconds into overtime as the Flyers beat the Penguins 4-3 on Saturday to assure themselves of a first-round matchup with the Metropolitan Division-rival New York Rangers.
Streit’s 10th goal of the season was the game-winner.
“It was another big game, it’s always a big rivalry,” Streit said of the Penguins. “It got heated at the end, a lot of emotions. We wanted that third spot and we got it.”
Jakub Voracek scored twice for the Flyers, and Claude Giroux added his team-high 28th goal of the season. Ray Emery made 12 saves after replacing injured starter Steve Mason to begin the third period.
Mason was held out as a precaution after getting bowled over late in the second period when Pittsburgh’s Jayson Megna failed to put on the brakes while streaking to the net.
Flyers coach Craig Berube expects Mason to be fine, though the play turned an atypically sleepy meeting between the two clubs into something decidedly more lively.
There were three goals in the final 5 minutes of regulation, a brief dust-up at the end of regulation that led to a rare 3-on-3 to start overtime, and plenty of pushing and shoving.
At one point Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell hit Kris Letang from behind just days after Letang returned from a stroke that kept the 2013 Norris Trophy finalist out for more than two months.
While Letang called the incident “part of the game,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was a little more pointed.
“It’s a guy picking on a guy who had a stroke,” Bylsma said.
If that’s the case, Berube is wondering why Letang is in the lineup at all.
“Then (Letang) shouldn’t be out there playing, bottom line,” Berube said. “It’s a stupid comment.”
Letang gained a measure of revenge when he scored with 36 seconds remaining to send the game to overtime, his first goal since Jan. 23. He nearly won it in overtime but Emery made a sharp stick save.
Seconds later, the Flyers were celebrating at the other end of the ice when Fleury misplayed Streit’s innocent-looking backhander.
“It was a great pass by (Matt) Niskanen,” Letang said of the near miss. “It could have ended it and probably should have.”
Jussi Jokinen and James Neal also scored for Pittsburgh. Fleury stopped 17 shots and hardly looked sharp while giving up the winner. The Penguins will play either Detroit or Columbus in the opening round of the postseason.
Philadelphia’s victory might be a blessing for the Penguins, who lost the season series to the Flyers 4-1 and were shoved out of the playoffs by Philadelphia two years ago. Still, Pittsburgh — which locked up the Metropolitan Division title more than a week ago — saw progress.
“I thought we were much better, and for a game that doesn’t move us in the standings anywhere, I liked our mindset,” said center Sidney Crosby, who earned an assist to boost his NHL-leading point total to 104.
The Penguins spent most of the first two periods tilting the ice but struggled to beat Mason. The NHL’s top-ranked, power-play unit couldn’t convert during a 5-on-3 advantage early in the second that lasted more than 90 seconds. A one-timer by Neal clanged off the right post, and Mason made a lunging glove save from his belly to deny Beau Bennett.
Thrust into action unexpectedly after Mason left the game, Emery was similarly sharp. His best save might have been his last when he denied Letang.
“I’m just happy that it turned out the right way,” Emery said. “It was kind of ugly, but it turned out the right way.”
NOTES: The game was the 400th behind the bench for Bylsma, who is 252-117-31 since taking over midway through the 2008-09 season. Only Eddie Johnston (516) has coached more games in team history. ... The crowd of 18,673 tied the largest at Consol Energy Center since it opened on Oct. 7, 2010. ... Philadelphia D Hal Gill played 15 minutes in his first game since Dec. 21. Gill had been a healthy scratch in 44 straight games. ... Both teams will end the regular season on Sunday. Pittsburgh will host Ottawa, and the Flyers will face Carolina in Philadelphia.