There is a marvelous film clip from the Philadelphia Flyers' last visit to Capital Centre, a segment so choice that it appears on TelScreen before virtually every home game of the Washington Capitals.
It shows Washington Coach Bryan Murray pointing and shouting, not as usual toward an official on the ice, but in the direction of the neighboring bench. The target was the Flyers' coach, Mike Keenan, and if Murray was not making the outright suggestion that they use their fists on each other, the implication was there.
Murray and Keenan, both ranking near the top of their profession as former NHL coaches of the year, do not like each other very much. The same could be said, in solid understatement, for their two teams, which meet again today at sold-out Capital Centre in a game vital to the first-place hopes of both.
On the Flyers' last visit, when the Capitals earned their only victory in five meetings this season, referee Bryan Lewis called 49 penalties. Usually, that is a month's work for Lewis, who practices the "let 'em play" philosophy of officiating. For today's game, the NHL, apparently recognizing the intensity of this rivalry, has assigned Andy Van Hellemond, one of the best in his business.
Fighting extended the last Flyers-Capitals game to 3 hours 20 minutes, and the nature of some of the fouls prompted Murray to offer his challenge to Keenan. The Flyers have a way of bumping opponents after whistles, and they responded to two Washington goals in the first 2 1/2 minutes by running the goal scorers.
"It really burned me that when we score a goal, they have somebody jump the guy who scored," Murray said. "The second goal, the same thing. Brad Marsh was after guys after the whistle all night. I have to think there was some direction, that they were playing a game of intimidation.
"I told him Keenan he'd changed since junior, that maybe he and I should settle it."
The reference to "junior" carries back to 1980, when Murray and Keenan were coaching foes in the controversial Memorial Cup in which Keenan's Peterborough team apparently played with less than total enthusiasm in losing to Cornwall, with the result that Murray's Regina Pats did not qualify for the final. Cornwall, coached by Doug Carpenter, then won the championship while Regina fans threw eggs and other debris at the Peterborough players.
Murray easily can recite the names on the Peterborough roster, which included current Capital Larry Murphy, and he notes that there were no intimidators such as Flyers Dave Brown and Rick Tocchet, who combined to serve six penalties in the January game.
"Mike Keenan always used to make a point of saying how he was against fighting in hockey," said Murray. "Now he's got guys like Brown and Tocchet."
Brown has nine goals, a career high, and 264 penalty minutes. Tocchet has 12 goals and 266 penalty minutes. Murray acknowledges that he plucked Dwight Schofield (one goal, 127 minutes) from St. Louis in the waiver draft as a fist-throwing antidote to those two.
Keenan says he employs such players for the same reason -- because others do it, specifically the Edmonton team that beat the Flyers in last year's Stanley Cup finals. He also concedes that if fighting is allowed, he will not hesitate to use it as a tactic to win games.
"In the rule book, it states that fisticuffs are acceptable, subject to a five-minute major penalty," Keenan said. "As long as teams employ tough players, you have to have that offsetting measure on your team as well.
"Unless they remove that rule, every team will do exactly the same thing. If you look at the Stanley Cup champions, it's obvious what they've done. If you want to win the Cup, you have to employ every means to compete with them.
"If you want to eliminate fighting and eject players who fight, you're going to need very strong officiating and I don't believe we do, at least not strong enough to make a judgment in case of the rules with regard to fisticuffs. If one of our players and Wayne Gretzky fight and both are thrown out, it's a great tactical ploy. A referee has to be judicious."
With regard to each other, Murray and Keenan deny -- publicly, at least -- any ill feeling. However, they are unlikely to socialize after a game.
"Bryan is a very competitive coach, and he has a certain inclination to be very vocal on the bench," Keenan said. "That's fine. I know that's his demeanor, and everybody else in the league does as well."
"I don't say we don't get along," Murray said. "We've had conversations at coaching clinics and we've talked in a bar. Obviously, we're not great friends.
"I get along very well with most of the coaches, and I guess Keenan and Glen Sather of Edmonton are the exceptions. But there's a real rivalry there at a fairly high level. Maybe that's what happens when you're competing for something."