That was almost immediately followed by red cards for Ruben Palazuelos and Darren McCormack after the latter appeared to headbutt the Spaniard.
A furious Palazuelos had to be restrained by manager Csaba Laszlo as he tried to continue the argument with McCormack and Hibs boss John Hughes, the drama on show in stark contrast to November's dour goalless draw.
There were plenty of surprises in both line-ups as Hughes handed a debut to new goalkeeper Graeme Smith and gave McCormack his first start for more than three months, as well as recalling Ian Murray.
In addition to selecting Smith, Hearts gave a shock debut to Marius Cinikas - on loan from FBK Kaunas - and recalled Christian Nade.
Third-placed Hibs were looking to bounce back from last weekend's 4-1 thrashing by Rangers, while their arch-rivals were gunning for a fourth straight victory after rousing themselves from their early-season stupor.
Today's fixture had survived an early-morning inspection but there was a brief flurry of snow just after kick-off.
Hearts should have been ahead in the eighth minute when Michael Stewart robbed Chris Hogg, exchanged passes with Nade and squared for striker Smith, who just failed to connect on the stretch.
At the other end, Marian Kello did well to deal with a firm Lee Wallace backpass as Hibs looked to get in behind their opponents' high defensive line.
Cinikas escaped with a lecture after clattering into Derek Riordan with what was the latest of a number of heavy challenges from both sides.
The visitors found themselves down to 10 men for a couple of minutes when Stewart then needed treatment behind the Hibs goalline, the Hearts physio initially failing to spot the midfielder's distress as the game continued.
The home side were beginning to get on top without testing Kello, though the keeper would have been grateful to see Hogg's vicious volley blocked.
Stokes passed up Hibs' first real chance when Ismael Bouzid completely misjudged the flight of a crossfield ball but the in-form striker blazed wide.
Hogg headed Stewart's free-kick onto the top of his own bar under pressure from Nade, who then hurt himself challenging keeper Smith for a high ball.
Merouane Zemmama looked to have sent Riordan clear two minutes before the break but the forward was flagged offside as he shot straight at Kello.
And on the stroke of half-time, Hearts took the lead when Palazuelos fizzed in a low cross, met unerringly on the volley by the left foot of young Smith.
A supporter was ejected from the away end as the players left the field after a flare appeared to be thrown.
Smith also had the first sight of goal in the second half when he volleyed over from 20 yards.
Paul Hanlon won a shoulder-to-shoulder with Suso Santana when the latter raced onto Stewart's through ball.
It proved crucial as Hibs levelled nine minutes in, Riordan's cross headed home the back post by the unmarked Stokes, his seventh goal in five games.
Mayhem followed two minutes later when Palazuelos and McCormack both saw red.
Riordan was then inches away from converting Miller's cross before Laszlo withdrew goalscorer Smith for Ian Black.
Hughes threw on the fit-again Kevin McBride for Zemmama as the game became stretched.
There was a second flashpoint when Suso and Murray squared off after the latter had fouled his rival but both escaped with a booking.
Black forced Hibs keeper Smith into an uncomfortable parry from long range with 15 minutes remaining before Murray scuffed a shot on the turn just wide of Kello's near post.
Suso was replaced by David Templeton after being flagged offside for a second time when clean through.
Riordan missed a great chance to win it for Hibs when one-on-one with Smith four minutes from time.
Templeton, McBride and Stewart were all yellow carded before the final whistle as the game ended in a draw.