CHRIS PRONGER already has his name on the Stanley Cup, already has two Olympic gold medals.
What he didn't have, at least until this series, was a good Stanley Cup story, the kind that hockey municipalities like to identify their teams with, to time-date eras and personalities.
Pronger has stolen the puck after both games in this series. He has said, with that devilish smile of his, that he threw both in the garbage, "Where they belong."
After Chicago's 2-1 victory Monday, the Blackhawks' Ben Eager skated toward Pronger, said something to him, and had a towel thrown in his face.
"I just told him he can keep it," said Eager, who scored the winning goal that night.
"Apparently, it got him upset," Pronger said. "So I guess it worked, didn't it?"
Um, well, how exactly? The game was over. Eager received a 10-minute game misconduct, as did Pronger, but neither penalty will affect ice time or the outcome of Game 3 here tonight.
Yesterday, someone suggested Pronger's antics would fire up the Blackhawks, which induced Peter Laviolette's best comments of the day.
"So what is it they're going to do?" asked the Flyers' coach. "What added incentive do they have? They're angry? It's the playoffs. We're going to compete like hell tomorrow night. I promise you that. I don't know what else they can do because we stole the puck.
"I think it's comical."
Well . . . yeah. It's kind of the whole point, at least from Pronger's point of view. Teasing teammates, taunting the media, playing pranks on his foes - Pronger has treated this postseason with unyielding irreverence.
The question is: Why? For entertainment purposes only? Or is there some method to all of this, to keep the heat away from a team going through this for the first time.
"I don't know," Danny Briere said. "He seems in his element right now. You know what? He's been here before a few times. So I'm sure there's a method. He seems to be disturbing a lot of people. And we're a team that disturbs a lot of people.
"So I guess he fits right in."
"It's the finals," Pronger said. "There's an awful lot of attention. You have to enjoy the moment. It's not every day you get here. You have to kind of relish it. You don't know when it's going to be your last one."
He is 35, in his first season with his newest team, playing in his third Stanley Cup finals in five seasons. He has fulfilled the promise of his trade and 7-year, $35 million contract extension, anchoring a two-tiered defensive core by playing, on most playoff nights, half the game. He is a willing talker, and has been the spokesman of this team at times, but Pronger always straddles that line between comedian and cad.
In season, he just seemed out to entertain himself. Now, there seems to be more to it.
Rather than being peppered about his line's lack of productivity, captain Mike Richards yesterday was asked twice about Puckgate. And again about Pronger.
"Seems like there's a sense of calmness about him in any situation," Richards said. "Whether it's on the ice with a minute left or just being around the dressing room, he has a sense of calmness. I think with a young group like we have, an inexperienced group like we have, I think that calmness about him rubs off on different people."
Which takes us back to the pucks and such. Back in 2006, Tampa Bay's Tim Taylor pocketed the puck at the end of then-Ottawa Senator Ray Emery's first playoff victory. The intent was to unnerve the young and volatile goaltender, but Emery insisted he cared nothing about the puck. When Taylor handed Emery the puck after the series ended, Emery proved true to his words by flipping it to a fan.
But the story lives on in hockey folklore, a milepost for this latest incident. On YouTube, you can still see the Flyers' Ed Hospodar and Chico Resch chasing after Montreal's Claude Lemieux and Shayne Carson in the 1987 conference finals.
Plenty of entries, too, of Ron Hextall going WWF on Chris Chelios.
Now we have the Pronger entry, its historical significance to be determined, beginning with tonight's Game 3.
"I don't have a problem with it," Richards said. "If he wants to get the puck, give him the puck. I'm not going to tell him not to.
"Eager can tell him not to take it if he wants."
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