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October 28, 2005 - Primeau pushes Flyers higher

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Primeau pushes Flyers higher
Friday, October 28, 2005

Keith Primeau was on the Flyers' first power play unit Thursday for the first time this season, which was clearly coach Ken Hitchcock's way of saying to his captain: Do something.

Primeau did something. He did plenty. Then he darn near went too far.

The Flyers survived, barely, Primeau's four-minute penalty at the end of the second period Thursday and beat the Panthers 5-4. Peter Forsberg's first goal of the season tied the game in the final minute of regulation, and then Joni Pitkanen scored in overtime to give the Flyers a comeback win.

Primeau assisted on the game-winner, doing what he usually does -- knocking someone off the puck and making something happen.

"Keith gave us some big shifts and big emotion when we needed it," Hitchcock said. "He really battled hard. He turned the momentum a couple times. You've got to have your best players playing if you're going to win, and that's what we had tonight."

Primeau turned the momentum both ways, in fact. With the Flyers trailing 3-1 in the second period Primeau shook the puck loose and got it to Forsberg, who hit Simon Gagne with a perfect pass. Gagne banged home his eighth goal of the season and got the Flyers back within a goal.

Primeau did the darnedest thing. Instead of turning toward his teammates to celebrate, Primeau spun and went after Panthers defenseman Sean Hill.

There was a statement being made here, and as usual it fell to the captain. Hitchcock and Primeau had a much-publicized talk before practice Thursday about the team's effort and focus. Primeau said Hitchcock challenged him.

Challenge extended. Challenge accepted.

Primeau came out playing very chippy Thursday. He personally took responsibility for ratcheting up a notch the Flyers' intensity and level of play.

Then at the end of the second period -- with the Flyers down a goal -- Primeau went and lost his mind. Whistled for a holding penalty, Primeau removed his mouthpiece and jumped all over referee Tim Peel.

Now, Primeau had a point. The officiating Thursday was shaky and inconsistent. The game went without a penalty for a blissful first eight minutes before the refs settled back into the usual barrage of power plays. But, hey -- welcome to the new NHL. This is what hockey is, now.

Primeau got whistled for an unsportsmanlike penalty. You just can't do what he did. Primeau bought the Flyers a four-minute penalty -- and at the end of it, the Panthers scored to take a 4-2 lead.

"That was my frustration more than anything," Primeau said. "We're trying to create some momentum, and you can't. You can't battle down low, and that's what I have to do.

"But you can never take an extra two-minute penalty. It was a dumb penalty."

Here's the thing, though -- Primeau is charged with making sure the Flyers play with emotion and energy. As captain, that's part of his job. When he does that -- and Primeau rises to that responsibility as well as anybody in the league -- sometimes you get some spillover.

"That's my responsibility, to try to take the tempo up and get everybody going," Primeau said. "I don't think we've still had a full game where we need to be. But we had enough to win tonight.

"The captain has to lead in some way. I'm not going to lead on the scoresheet, I'm not going to lead us in goals or points. I'm going to lead in energy. That's the way I'm going to elevate this team."

The captain in the NHL is one of the heaviest responsibilities in sports. He must be the leader, on and off the ice, and to some degree he is also the team's spokesman. He's a social director who helps forge chemistry, and a dictator who handles a locker room crisis. He is the team's conscience.

The captain and the coach are intertwined in this game like no other. The captain is extension of the coach in the room and on the ice. If the captain turns, the coach is done. If the coach has the captain, the captain pulls the rest.

Hitchcock grumbled about his team's effort in a loss to Montreal, and that of course meant telling Primeau to deal with it. This is the only sport where this sort of thing happens. When the Eagles' special teams went so screwy on them, Andy Reid did not call in Donovan McNabb and say: Fix this, will you? But in hockey, the captain handles everything.

Primeau, as always, handled things Thursday. Primeau brought energy.

"We're trying to play with emotion," Primeau said, shrugging.