PHILADELPHIA — Is there bad blood brewing between the Lightning and Flyers?
Hard to say otherwise given what happened during Tampa Bay's 2-1 loss Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center as two fights ended with the winner connecting with punches after the opponents were down, a breach of accepted protocol among NHL players.
In the first period, Philadelphia's Zac Rinaldo decked B.J. Crombeen with a good right hand then appeared to hit him twice when down on his knees. In the third period, Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier put Max Talbot on his back and slugged him for good measure.
In between there were scrums and officials talking to players to try to keep the lid on a boiling pot.
"They always play a hard physical game and we're trying to establish that we do that, too," Crombeen said. "We're a big team, we play hard and we're willing to stand up for ourselves any time. When two teams like that meet, there's going to be some physicality and some bad blood that grows over time."
Crombeen — as a "precaution" coach Guy Boucher said — was held out of the rest of the game and Lightning right wing Pierre-Cedric Labrie said he warned Rinaldo.
"He was telling me it was fair and (Crombeen) was not going down," Labrie said. "I told him to keep his head up because I'll be coming for you but we didn't match up after that. … One day."
The teams meet again March 18 in Tampa.
As for the game, Tom Sestito's second goal with 8:49 left in the third period — on a three-on-two that began when Labrie was too deep in the offensive zone — broke a 1-1 tie 1:41 after Ben Pouliot scored for the Lightning.
Both Sestito goals came from the slot and went through goaltender Anders Lindback's legs.
Tampa Bay had a season-low 22 shots with only two coming on four failed power plays. Steven Stamkos was stopped by goalie Ilya Bryzgalov on two prime scoring chances. Cory Conacher was robbed on one.
But it was the Crombeen-Rinaldo dustup that was front-and-center.
Some believed Rinaldo went after Crombeen for roughing up Flyers captain Claude Giroux during a Jan. 27 game at Tampa. Rinaldo said that was the case.
Besides it was the apparent late punches that were the issue.
"I hit him until he was down," Rinaldo said. "I'll never hit someone when they're down. I hit him until he was down and made sure he was down and that was it."
Rinaldo said he got confirmation from referee Kelly Southerland the punches came before Crombeen fell.
So, was it dirty?
"I'm not going to say that," Crombeen said. "I always fought by that if a guy is in a bad position you stop throwing. But guys fight different ways. I'm not going to say if it was dirty or not. You're fighting. You put yourself in that situation and you know the consequences."
Lecavalier didn't admit it but his late punch on Talbot certainly was payback.
"It just happened," Lecavalier said.
With these teams, the question, is what will happen next?
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8622. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com.
First Period—None. Penalties—Crombeen, TB, major (fighting), 6:19; Rinaldo, Phi, major (fighting), 6:19; Pouliot, TB (interference), 8:58; Knuble, Phi (tripping), 10:51; Coburn, Phi (cross-checking), 19:39.
Second Period—1, Philadelphia, Sestito 1 (Voracek, B.Schenn), 4:25. Penalties—None.
Third Period—2, Tampa Bay, Pouliot 3 (Purcell, Pyatt), 9:30. 3, Philadelphia, Sestito 2 (Fedotenko, Talbot), 11:11. Penalties—Lecavalier, TB, minor-major (slashing, fighting), 11:16; Talbot, Phi, minor-major (slashing, fighting), 11:16; Stamkos, TB (interference), 12:36; Knuble, Phi (slashing), 15:10; Coburn, Phi (holding stick), 19:46. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 8-5-9—22. Philadelphia 6-10-8—24. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 0 of 4; Philadelphia 0 of 2. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Lindback 5-2-0 (24 shots-22 saves). Philadelphia, Bryzgalov 4-5-0 (22-21). A—19,616 (19,538). T—2:32.