The Blackhawks say that Chris Pronger is not in their heads. But his tactics in defending the Flyers' zone - some legal, some not - definitely have gotten their attention.
So what's the difference?
Admitting that a competitor is directly and negatively influencing your performance can have long lasting and damaging effects. To put it another way, how much do you think Pedro Martinez regrets calling the Yankees his daddy?
The Blackhawks haven't gone that far, but they are definitely getting annoyed with Pronger.
"It is what it is," said Hawks captain Jonathan Toews, who has just one point in this series. "He's going to go out there and be physical. It doesn't matter how many whacks you're going to take from a guy like that in front of their net, the second you turn around and give him one, you have to be careful, because that's what [referees] are looking for is retaliation."
Pronger is averaging more than 31 minutes per game and has been whistled for penalties twice through the first three games of this series. One came after the final horn that ended Game 2. The other was a high-sticking on Dustin Byfuglien in Wednesday night's Game 3. Chicago coach Joel Quenneville feels the zebras surely have had other opportunities to send Pronger to the penalty box.
"I think there's a couple for sure late in the game," Quenneville said. "There was one that got my attention, whether it's a stick use or obstruction, I think we'll keep an eye on it."
Quenneville did not get specific, but seemed to indicate that Pronger was illegally preventing his players from getting to the puck on dump-ins and such.
Pronger, who drew a penalty on Byfuglien that resulted in a power-play goal Wednesday night, laughs off any suggestion of underhandedness and instead tries to shift the focus on something like who is taking the puck following the final horn. There was some consternation from the Blackhawks' camp following Game 2 after Pronger snatched the disc. Teammate Darroll Powe swooped in and picked up the puck on Wednesday, by the way.
"It wasn't in front of me like the other one was," said Pronger, smiling. "I don't know if you know this, but I picked up Game 1, too. You didn't notice that, did you?"
But this attention on who has what puck is not what has the Blackhawks aggravated. It's the not-so-gentle whacks across the ankles in front of the crease, borderline cross-checks to their backs as well as the alleged obstructions.
John Madden, Chicago's fourth-line center whose gritty play helped win two Stanley Cups while he was in New Jersey, was merely philosophical.
"I think if you can be dirty and get away with it, you're going to help your club," he said. "But there's a fine line. It all depends on how the game is being called and what's going on on the ice. You put your team at risk if you do stuff like that."
Those who see the world through orange-and-black-colored glasses will say Pronger is just being cagey and defending his turf in the most brutal hockey tournament in the world. Those who worship at the feet of Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita say Pronger's tactics are borderline and he is able to get away with them because he is Chris Pronger.
"It's that type of thing where you have to try and accept and take from him, because it's the way he plays," Toews said. "It just seems like, you know, it doesn't go as noticed as it would for another player. That's just the way it is. He's done his job. We can still do more to try and take him off his game."
Sometimes you're the baby and sometimes you're the daddy.
"I don't know how he would be getting into our heads, whether it's vocally or what not," Toews said. "He's not talking a lot out there. He's playing. He's doing his job the way he knows he can do it. So I mean, he's just one player. I don't think it's that big of a deal."
Isn't that special?
The Blackhawks still feel good about their 2-1 series lead despite being outplayed on both sides of the special-teams aisle. The Flyers have converted four of 10 power plays.
"When you look at the videos and see what's going on out there, we can do better," said Madden, one of Chicago's top penalty killers who has been on the ice for two power-play goals against. "We can be better. Those things can be controlled."
"Small things," said defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson. "We have to be in the shooting lanes more, block some more shots and have some quicker sticks in front of the net to help out [goaltender Antti Niemi]."
Chicago is 0-for-6 with the man advantage. Dating back to the Montreal series, the Flyers have killed off 27 of their last 28 power plays. The only tally was a meaningless goal at the end of a 5-1 loss in Game 3 of that series.
"I think moving forward here, definitely we want to improve on our power play," Hawks defenseman Duncan Keith said. "I think our penalty kill has been good for the most part. Sometimes, you know, just tightening it up here and there. But I think moving forward here, that's definitely something that next game we want to concentrate on being better at."
Forward Andrew Ladd was part of a scant crew that skated yesterday and his status will be evaluated this morning. Ladd, who had a career-best 17 goals during the regular season, has missed the first three games of the finals with an upper body injury.