A few years ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ rivalry with Philadelphia seemed to be losing a bit of its edge.
Oh, they weren’t exactly pals — and the Wells Fargo Center crowd never tired of directing vulgar chants at Sidney Crosby — but the historic hostility between these franchises just wasn’t there the way it had been for so many years.
Probably because the Flyers simply weren’t very good for a number of years.
Well, Philadelphia is on its way back and so, it seems, is the rivalry.
There looked to be considerable bad blood — some of which leaked out of Kris Letang’s forehead after he was high-sticked in the third period — between the Penguins and Flyers throughout the Penguins’ 4-1 victory at Wells Fargo Center Monday night.
The victory lifted the Penguins, who are 9-3-1 in their past 13 games, to within two points of the resurgent Flyers in the Metropolitan Division playoff race. Philadelphia won the previous two games between the teams, one in overtime, the other in a shootout.
Coach Mike Sullivan stuck with a personnel change he made during the Penguins’ 3-1 loss to Buffalo Saturday night, deploying Drew O’Connor at left wing on the No. 2 line and dropping Reilly Smith to the third unit.
The Penguins, who had been victimized by an early goal-against in each of their previous three games, generated one of their own against the Flyers.
Rickard Rakell got it during a power play just 45 seconds after the opening faceoff, as he set up at the left side of the crease and punched a backhand feed from Evgeni Malkin past Flyers goalie Carter Hart.
Jake Guentzel got the second assist on the goal, which was Rakell’s fifth — all in the past eight games — and came just 17 seconds after Philadelphia center Sean Couturier was penalized for tripping Rakell.
That gave the Penguins a power-play goal in four consecutive games.
The Flyers, who entered the game converting a league-low 10.2 percent of their chances with the extra man, got a power play at 2:09, when Jansen Harkins was sent off for hooking.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to kill one minutes, 46 seconds of that man-disadvantage, which ended abruptly when Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim picked up a minor for roughing Noel Acciari. The Penguins were unable to capitalize on that chance with the extra man, as well as one they got when Philadelphia defenseman Nick Seeler was sent off for elbowing at 10:36.
They did, however, get a goal from Erik Karlsson — his first in 19 games and seventh of the season — at 7:37, when his wrist shot from the right point eluded Hart, thanks in large part to screens set by Jeff Carter and Acciari. Carter and Harkins received the assists.
Harkins made his second trip to the penalty box at 14:39, after he was guilty of a trip, but he didn’t stay there long, as only 16 seconds passed before Owen Tippett beat Penguins goalie Alex Nedeljkovic from inside the right dot to make it 2-1.
That proved to be the only one of the 37 shots Nedeljkovic faced that got behind him.
The Flyers survived two more shorthanded situations before the intermission, as Cam Atkinson was penalized for goaltender interference at 15:37 and ex-Penguins forward Ryan Poehling went for delay of game 17 seconds after Atkinson returned to the ice.
After assessing seven minors in the opening period, referees Trevor Hanson and Graham Skilliter did not detect any rules infractions worthy of calling during the second.
Chad Ruhwedel got the only goal of that period — and restored the Penguins’ two-goal lead — at 8:07, wristing a shot through traffic and between Hart’s legs from the high slot for his first of the season. Assists went to Bryan Rust and Ryan Graves.
Hart kept the Flyers within striking distance just over a minute and a half into the third, when O’Connor got behind the Flyers’ defense, but was unable to get his initial shot or a rebound past Hart.
He could not prevent Evgeni Malkin from making it 4-1 a few minutes later, however, as Malkin got a pass from O’Connor and threw a shot by Hart from the right dot at 4:29. O’Connor’s assist was the only one on that goal, Malkin’s 15th.
Philadelphia winger Garnet Hathaway picked up a double-minor for high-sticking Letang during a goal-mouth skirmish at 5:43. Letang, who came out of the sequence with a nasty gash on his forehead, received a roughing minor.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a scheduled day off Tuesday. They will practice Wednesday at 11 a.m. at UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex.