Need to know: Pens-Flyers a sideshow yet again

There is no doubt that the Chicago Blackhawks’ improbable points streak is the best thing hockey has going right now to grab the rest of the sporting world’s attention, but in terms of pure entertainment value, any matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers has to rank as a close second.

Let’s face it: When these clubs meet, all bets are off.

In what served as a throwback to the wild-and-crazy playoff series in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals last spring, Thursday night’s battle for Pennsylvania bragging rights did not disappoint.

The Flyers came out like a buzz saw to claim a 4-1 lead after a physical, energetic first period, but their lead fizzled away as the Penguins charged back to score four unanswered goals and secure the 5-4 win in hostile territory.

The visiting team has won in all three meetings between the teams this season.

Chris Kunitz finished with two goals and an assist, Sidney Crosby chipped in with three helpers and backup goaltender Tomas Vokoun turned away all 14 shots he faced in relief of starter Marc-Andre Fleury, who didn’t make it past the first period after giving up four goals on 18 shots.

“You know, about these games,” Penguins coach Dan Bylsma told reporters. “You’re probably going to see something a little head-shaking at times.”

The Penguins are now within two points of the top spot in the Eastern Conference with a 7-3-0 record and three straight wins. Philadelphia fell to 11th place with the loss, three points back of the eighth-place Rangers.

Fueled by a pair of power-play goals by forward Jakub Voracek in the first, the Flyers came out flat in the second and did little to thwart the Penguins’ onslaught of offense. They registered only three shots on goal on Vokoun in the second period.

Ilya Bryzgalov was given the hook in that period, but Brian Boucher couldn’t preserve the tie as Kunitz’s second goal of the night held up as the game winner.

It wasn’t a good night for goalies, and the dud performance by Fleury was oddly reminiscent of last spring, too. No doubt the Penguins have some concerns about their No. 1 guy going the distance in the postseason.

Then again, these Penguins-Flyers games usually seem like outliers compared to the rest.

The teams have combined for a whopping 19 goals in the first three games this season; they amassed a jaw-dropping 45 goals in total during last year’s roller coaster six-game playoff series that saw Philadelphia advance to the second round.

Oh, and of course there was some nastiness involved. Although there was no rematch between captains Crosby and Claude Giroux, Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell and Pittsburgh’s James Neal scrapped in the first; both players received roughing minors, but Hartnell was slapped with an extra two minutes for unsportsmanlike conduct.

The teams next meet in Pittsburgh on March 24. If the past two seasons have taught us anything, circle that date on the calendar.