Sunday afternoon's thrilling 3-2 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins was one of those games that put an exclamation point on just about every aspect of Scott Hartnell's game, and how much he means to the success of the Philadelphia Flyers.
His second goal of the game -- and team-leading 35th of the season -- came with just 0.9 seconds remaining on the overtime clock to wrestle an all-important second point away from Philly's arch-rivals from Pennsylvania's West, and moved them to within two points of the Pens, and just three of the Eastern Conference-leading New York Rangers.
This, after he also scored the game-tying goal in the third period on a beautiful tic-tac-toe passing play, that ended up with Hartnell rifling home a bad-angled shot from the goal line to Marc-Andre Fleury's left and drilling the water bottle in the third period.
Pittsburgh's head coach, Dan Bylsma, thought that along with Kimmo Timonen's power play goal early in the third period, Hartnell's first of the afternoon completely changed the complexion of the contest.
"I think them scoring the goal right off the bat (Timonen's just 31 seconds into the third) made it a one-goal game, and you know regardless where the game was played and what shots were at that point in time, it turned into a one-goal game at that point," Bylsma said. "I think that spurred them on in the third period, and they got some good shifts after that, hitting us a little bit. It became more of a 50 / 50 game, and they came up with a big goal at the end from a bad angle (Hartnell's). Play from (Claude) Giroux to the side of the net (to Hartnell), and now we're playing a 2-2 game here on the road."
"It was a battle, sixty-plus minutes against this team," Hartnell said. "You have to fight for every inch, and it even took us a couple periods in an afternoon game to get ready. We were able to get a huge two points and it was a physical match."
It was a very physical contest, and for no one any moreso than Hartnell. He was involved in several scrums, both during play and after the whistle, as neither club wanted to give the other any kind of reprieve in what looks to be a setting for a war heading down the stretch run of the regular season's final 10-game segment for each.
When asked if the atmosphere was that of a postseason meeting, Hartnell was quick to point out the ramifications of the afternoon's all-out combat.
"It was a playoff game," he replied. "Odds are that we are going to face these guys (Pittsburgh) in the first round. We got a point on them tonight, one step closer to getting home ice. We play them twice in Pittsburgh (April 1 and 7 at CONSOL Energy Center in the two remaining games with the Penguins). It is not going to be easy. It (Sunday's win) is a big confidence boost for everybody."
And if, by chance, the Flyers or Pens overtake New York for the top spot in the conference and Philadelphia avoids Pittsburgh in the first round, Hartnell knows they will most likely meet at some point.
"It is what it is all about, playoff hockey," he said. "It is not just about beating one good team to get where you want, you have to beat two or three good teams. If it is the first round that we have to go through Pittsburgh, or second or third, this team is going to be there. We have to go through them. First round, we will take them on with open arms and play a seven-game series."
Head coach Peter Laviolette said his tremendous effort was just what his teammates needed, as they once again got out of the gates slowly for an afternoon matinee. His club trailed 2-0 after two, while being outshot by a 27-10 margin. Philly had gone over 18 minutes of play without recording a shot on goal, and finished the middle frame with only two offering on the Pens' net.
"He got really physical there, and we needed to do that," the coach pointed out. "That push was needed. We were really sleepy in the second period. We needed to get agitated, active in the game. I think physically, it helped turn around the momentum. Scotty was not only a real good physical presence, but offensively, (also)."
Timonen says he's one of those guys you hate to play against, but love having as a teammate.
"That’s the way he plays, that’s his game," the defenseman said. "When he plays like that, he’s in the game. Obviously, we get the energy from him too, the way he plays. He’s been scoring some big goals for us the whole season pretty much. It’s one of those guys, as a defenseman, it’s hard to play against him and he’s always there yapping and punching and that kind of stuff, so I’m really happy he’s on our team."
Hartnell mixed it up with Kris Letang and Chris Kunitz during an elongated third period melee, one that saw Brooks Orpik shove the Flyer to the ice. Officials held Hartnell down but allowed Kunitz to get free, and Kunitz pummelled Hartnell while he was prone with his back flush on the ice, before dropping onto him and continuing the fight. Hartnell was dinged up during the edginess, and at least one of his teammates took notice of the scrapes on his face.
Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov was asked how Hartnell looked to him after the fracas.
"Good," quipped the goalie, "he got a couple marks on his face. I call him 'Chief' right now."
And he is playing like a chief; a real leader and go-to guy for the Flyers.
For the season, Hartnell now has 35 goals and 64 points -- which are both career-highs -- 130 penalty minutes, an NHL-leading 15 power play markers, and a team-leading +21 rating in the plus / minutes column -- on a team that has just four players that are double-digits to the plus side.
And Sunday's OT goal also gave Hartnell the team lead in game-winning goals with six.
He is contributing in any and every way imaginable.
Linemate Jaromir Jagr was asked what it's like to play a game with Hartnell, because he adds so many different dimensions on the ice through his physicality and scoring abilities.
"Well, that's the way he is," Jagr said. "You don't know what to expect. I've played with him for 60 games and I still don't know what to expect."
Maybe the element of surprise is something that Hartnell uses to his advantage more than any other single trait, but one thing is certain. Hartnell's incredible play this season has helped the Flyers ascend to new heights.