The Penguins-Flyers enmity has grown into not only one of the most heated rivalries in the NHL, but in all of sports. It seems that nearly every contest grows into its own tiny planet of hate. Like any competition, ill will can only make victory that much sweeter, and solidify bitterness all the more in defeat. It is a great thing for sport.
Thursday night’s game between the aforementioned teams offered all of the tantalizing entertainment value that hockey fans could ask for. Lots of goals, passionate celebrations, big hits, long stares, dumb penalties and consistent jabbering at one another.
Then in the waning moments of the contest, Flyers captain Mike Richards took a run at Marc-Andre Fluery, the Penguins goaltender. With the net dislodged as a result of the incident, Fleury seemed unfazed, but his teammates were not going to put up with the shenanigans.
After the game when Letang was asked about the altercation, showing off a newly bandaged hand, he replied: "He knows what he did. Go ask Hartnell."..."It's a first for me. I want to be certain that you ask him and make sure you get the right answer."
When asked, Hartnell denied biting Letang, yet he did say: "a lot of stuff happens on the bottom of the pile. He had his hands in my face doing the facewash and we're rolling around. I can't say what happened."
Hartnell took part in a conference call with NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell on Friday morning but will face no suspension or fine. Sources say the referees and linesmen did not see the alleged incident and as such, there was insufficient evidence to further penalize Hartnell.
The NHL did the only thing they could do in this case... nothing.
However, in the court of public opinion, Hartnell is not afforded the same luxury.
It's quite clear that Hartnell acted with the sole intent to injure Letang and succeeded. Whether he bit him, or deeply scratched him with some fierce 5'oclock shadow scruff, doesn't matter. Hartnell did little to deny that he did something mysterious while the two were locked in a not-so-loving embrace.
The Flyers are a talented group, yet they have a well-earned reputation of a team known for cheap shots and suspensions. This is not a swipe at Philadelphia or their fans. In fact, the majority of Flyers fan reactions to the incident have been very condemning of Hartnell.
The rivalry was already hot. This kind of incident just dumps another gallon of lighter fluid on the fire. Great for hockey fans. Bad for Letang's finger. Shame on Hartnell's "stuff" that "happens". Sufficient disciplinary evidence or not, it's difficult to escape defining Hartnell's actions as anything other than classless.