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From Winter Olympics to Finals

CHICAGO - Mike Richards and Chris Pronger already have gold. Now the Flyers' two very different leaders are playing for silver - the gleaming Stanley Cup.

CHICAGO - Mike Richards and Chris Pronger already have gold. Now the Flyers' two very different leaders are playing for silver - the gleaming Stanley Cup.

"The Olympics were awesome," Richards said during a media session Thursday at the United Center. "But you grow up dreaming of the Stanley Cup. You never play in your driveway for an Olympic gold medal."

Only three men have won Olympic gold and Stanley silver in the same year. Ken Morrow, a defenseman for the Miracle on Ice Team USA in 1980, signed with the New York Islanders after the Games. They beat the Flyers for the first of four consecutive NHL titles.

In 2002, Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan achieved the gold-silver exacta with Team Canada and the Detroit Red Wings.

This exclusive club will grow no matter who wins the best-of-seven Finals. Three of the Chicago Blackhawks - Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook - played for Team Canada, which beat the U.S. team in a thrilling overtime gold-medal game in Vancouver in February.

Winning the silver and gold in the same year requires a grueling, relentless stretch of high-pressure hockey. For Richards and Pronger, though, the intensity of their Vancouver experience seems to have helped them guide the Flyers in their improbable run to the Finals.

"There was so much pressure throughout the [Olympic] tournament," Richards said. "You learn how to deal with pressure and see how different players deal with pressure. It's all about handling it and being calm. I think that's where that helped out [with the Flyers]. Everyone was so calm and relaxed."

Pronger is 35, tall and rangy, and relishes the give-and-take (especially give) with the media. Richards is 10 years younger and seven inches shorter and handles his media duties with the enthusiasm of a man filling out forms in triplicate. Pronger is a Hall of Fame-bound defenseman acquired as the missing piece for a team found lacking. Richards was captain of that team.

Within weeks of their first season together, the head coach was fired, and the team dropped to 14th in the 15-team Eastern Conference. The team was in trouble and there were rumblings that the young captain and the elder statesman weren't exactly simpatico. Mostly, a captain has to take some of the flak when a team gets its coach fired.

"Johnny [Stevens] and I were together a long time," Richards said. "We were comfortable together. I go from that to a coach in Peter [Laviolette] that I didn't know at all."

For Pronger, a man accustomed to winning, the whole thing must have seemed like an unwelcome mess.

"It's not always going to be roses [for a captain]," Pronger said. "There are tough times. As the year's gone along, he's obviously found his niche, the way he's going to lead our team. It's been very successful."

It was a remarkable coincidence that those two key players were the only Flyers chosen to represent Canada in the Olympics. Pronger and Richards were part of a team that managed enormous pressure - and nearly collapsed, losing a preliminary round game to Team USA - to win that gold medal.

"For any other player on any other country," Toews said, "I'm sure there's a lot of pressure to win. But I doubt it compares to being a Canadian player, in our own country, when it meant the world to every single Canadian to win a gold medal."

It would be a better transformation story if Richards became a totally different player and leader during his fortnight with Team Canada. But it wouldn't be honest. Richards has always been a hard-working, intense player on the ice, a leader more by deed than word.

He is Chase Utley on skates.

"Mike's been pretty much the same," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said.

But there's little doubt the shared experience gave Richards and Pronger a new respect and appreciation for each other.

"I know him better now than I did before," Richards said. "I feel more comfortable with him now than I did before. The Olympics were a big thing that we went through together. He kind of guided me along. . . . And at the end of the year, I think he takes a lot of pressure off me, dealing with you guys and day-to-day things. He's a powerful voice, something that might have been lacking in the dressing room before."

"Any time you have an opportunity to play on that type of stage in that environment and caliber of competition, it's only going to help you," Pronger said. "That line [Richards] was on, they played well at both ends. Having those types of experiences and being able to win, it gives you things to look back and draw upon."

A rebuilt team. A fired coach. A long season of losing mixed with winning. The Olympics. The last playoff berth. The amazing run to the Finals.

"There have been so many different things," Richards said, "it almost feels like a couple of years built into one year."

And it could end with a couple of championships, one gold and one silver, for the Flyers' oddest couple.