Pronger pesters, dominates Blackhawks
The silent genius lay less in the point than in the prodding. Chris Pronger's irritant behavior and his bullying nature dictated play again last night, but, really, for the first time in the Stanley Cup finals.
The silent genius lay less in the point than in the prodding.
Chris Pronger's irritant behavior and his bullying nature dictated play again last night, but, really, for the first time in the Stanley Cup finals.
"Pronger was excellent," coach Peter Laviolette said. "Pronger was excellent."
After a pair of games in Chicago where Pronger wasn't quite as excellent, he nullified monstrous Blackhawks winger Dustin Byfuglien, the 257-pound hockey anomaly whose unmatchable hitting in Chicago's Game 2 win won for the Hawks a testosterone edge, if not the game itself.
Repeatedly, Pronger's black Bauer, held in both hands, found Byfuglien's back, arms and shoulders.
Once, too high, it cost Pronger a 2-minute penalty early in the second period.
Later, nearly midway through the second, Pronger went high again, but no call was made. Byfuglien retaliated with a slash that ripped Pronger's stick from his grasp.
Asked directly about the Blackhawks' level of frustration, in particular that moment, Pronger, typically, obfuscated, then offered: "There was a lot of talk on their side of the ice. We were just busy playing the game."
Byfuglien's coach, Joel Quenneville, insisted that his big man was not nonplussed.
"I think Buff was pretty composed. I think he was a factor, something for them to be concerned about," Quenneville said. "He played hard against Prongs."
Last night, he got off one shot, took two penalties and was a minus-1 against Prongs.
Byfuglien's slashing penalty (his second; he was called for roughing at the end of the first) led to Pronger's point.
Pronger slapped one from the point that Scott Hartnell deflected between the legs of Antti Niemi and gave the Flyers a 2-1 lead midway through the second period.
It was Pronger's 13th assist of the postseason, his 17th point of the postseason, but it seemed coincidental to the sort of effect he intended to affect last night. It was the sort of effect that led the Flyers to trade so much for him in the offseason, so he could be this guy in this moment, down, 2-0 in the finals.
This was more than just a continuation of the arrogance that led him to skate away with the pucks at the ends of Games 1 and 2, both Blackhawks wins in their building.
This was Pronger as back-line anchor, a force against the Blackhawks' top line less appreciated than some others with better numbers or bigger hits.
Last night, there were plenty of those, too. Pronger, at 6-6 and 220 pounds, can still deliver that sort of damage, even at the age of 35.
He gave the Flyers a he-man advantage when he took out sturdy Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews less than 5 minutes into the game, pestered Byfuglien for the rest of that shift, came back on a few minutes later and love-tapped speedy star Patrick Kane just before he blocked a shot from Toews, one of his five blocks in regulation. He got two more late in the third from the stick of Marian Hossa, as he double-shifted against the Hawks' better players and piled up minutes.
When Dan Carcillo put the Flyers' 1-0 lead in peril at the end of the first with his charging penalty, Pronger played stronger than ever. Twice, he locked up Byfuglien in front, and the power play went for nothing.
When Byfuglien wasn't camping in the crease, Pronger seemed to drift toward the diminutive, dangerous Kane. He chirped at Kane during a stoppage about 5 minutes into the third.
The message seemed clear enough 2 minutes later. Pronger he leveled Kane against the end boards and took his head off - well, his helmet, anyway, the third of his allowed three hits before overtime.
By the end of regulation Pronger had played 28 minutes, 44 seconds, just below his 28:58 average, which is the most in the playoffs. The Flyers needed every second.
He played without error it seemed. He mastered every angle. He found the right position. He delivered the right pass at the right time.
"He just knows how to be at the right spot at the right time," said fellow stopper Kimmo Timonen.
It was just for good measure, it seemed, that he ripped a shot that got him in the book.