FOR THE MAJORITY of his 74 games in the NHL, Penguins forward Joe Vitale has skated in relative obscurity.
But after Sunday's nasty game that produced 52 penalty minutes, two fines and 15 different infractions in one on-ice melee, Vitale may have a huge impact on the Flyers' first-round playoff series with Pittsburgh.
Vitale was responsible for both hits that knocked forward Danny Briere and defenseman Nick Grossmann from the game.
The Flyers announced yesterday that Briere will be out indefinitely with an upper-back contusion, though general manager Paul Holmgren said the injury is not concussion-related. Grossmann will be sidelined for a week to 10 days with a "lower-body" injury believed to be a knee after a knee-to-knee hit caused him to hobble off the ice.
With Vitale's hard but clean hit on Briere with 1:03 left, which sparked the brawl, it's now easy to see why coach Peter Laviolette got so fired up - causing him to break a stick over the glass and confront Penguins assistant coach Tony Granato.
Laviolette, believed to be the first Flyers coach to be ejected since Roger Neilson in 1999, was fined $10,000 on Monday for his actions. Granato was docked $2,500.
Based on the timeline, Grossmann could be back for Game 1 of the first round. He left Sunday's game after just 8:25. Briere's status is unknown.
There was some good news on Monday for the Flyers, though, as Holmgren said goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov is "possible" to play Tuesday against the Rangers at the Wells Fargo Center. Bryzgalov has missed the last three games since sustaining a chip fracture in his right foot on March 26, but returned to practice with the team Friday.
The Flyers signed two defensive prospects, the University of Maine's Matt Mangene and the Medicine Hat Tigers' Matt Kohan, to entry-level deals.
Mangene, 23, signed a 2-year entry-level deal, the maximum length allowed under the CBA for his age. He collected 34 points in 40 games for Maine in his junior season before deciding to leave school early. He signed an AHL tryout contract and will report to the Phantoms on Tuesday for the final 10 games of this season before his contract begins in the fall.
Kohan, 20, is finishing up his fifth and final season of junior eligibility in the WHL with Medicine Hat. He's chipped in with 54 points in 72 games in the regular season before leading the Tigers past Saskatoon in the first round of the playoffs last weekend. He probably won't get his first taste of pro hockey this season, as the Tigers are still battling for a Memorial Cup.
Wayne Simmonds was named the NHL's No. 1 star of the week for his five goals in four games. Those five goals came on the heels of a 16-game goal-scoring drought.
"I had a prolonged slump," Simmonds explained. "I got my first one and that felt good. They just kept coming from there. Everything feels good right now."
Ilya Bryzgalov was also named the NHL's top star of the month of March. He edged out the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (23 points) and Buffalo's Ryan Miller (10-3-2, 2.17 GAA, .930 save percentage) for the honor with a 10-2-1 ledger, 1.43 goals-against average and .947 save percentage.
Tuesday marks the Flyers' final crack at the Rangers before the Stanley Cup playoffs begin. And this game, in which the Flyers try to snap a seven-game skid against New York, has a ton of playoff implications. One point won by the Rangers or lost by Pittsburgh on Tuesday will clinch the No. 1 seed in the East for New York.
One point won by the Flyers or lost by the Devils will clinch the No. 5 seed for Philadelphia. Thus, a first-round matchup between the Flyers and Penguins can be locked in after Tuesday night.
More importantly, the Flyers want to head into the postseason knowing they can top the Rangers. The Rangers, who are 5-0-0 against the Flyers this season, haven't swept a season series against the Flyers since 1971-72.
"They've beaten us all five games and that's not a good thing," Simmonds said. "The games that we've played them, we only played about 40 minutes of the game and they played the full 60. You're never going to win playing that way against that team."
Contact Frank Seravalli at email@example.com.