THE FUN SPIN is to say it started with Chris Pronger's stolen puck. The hockey analyst would focus on that third period of Game 2, when the Flyers dumped 15 shots on Antti Niemi, swarmed his goal, almost came back from a two-goal hole.
Here is what is undeniable: The Flyers came into town Tuesday, down two games to nil, with their coach talking about creating doubt for the Chicago Blackhawks' rookie goaltender, and with Pronger agitating the Stanley Cup favorites in interview sessions almost as much as he had on ice.
They leave with the series tied at two after last night's hairy-ending, 5-3 victory, Chicago's goalie suddenly solvable, the swagger gone from a Chicago team that had swept the Western Conference's top seed and was poised to do the same thing after two games of this series.
Are the Flyers in Chicago's head? Let's ask that another way. Until his wrist shot with 2:40 left, and a dangerous tip-in try a minute later, had anyone noticed Dustin Byfuglien out there?
More to the point, anyone nearly as afraid of him as you were when this series started?
Thank Mr. Pronger for that. It's too early for talk of the Conn Smythe Trophy, but it's hard to imagine any other Flyer receiving that trophy should they complete their incredible playoff run with two more victories over the next week.
Which would tick off not just fans in Chicago, but the other 28 NHL cities as well.
"I think we all understand the game is there for good entertainment," he said the other day. "People are paying a lot of money to see a good game. If they want to love to hate somebody, then so be it."
Once again, Pronger played more than 27 minutes. Once again he was a thorny thicket in front of Michael Leighton, and an amazing soccer-like sweeper behind it and in those all-important corners. Once again he skated that fine line between legal and illegal that has the Blackhawks players yapping to officials about obstructions, interference and subtle stickwork.
"Whether it's a dump or a chip, I think he makes you take the long way," said Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Pronger when both were with the Blues.
He said this Thursday, when he spoke of "forms and mechanisms to get our messages across." That's a tactic, too, of course, a way of asking for a closer look from the officiating crew, but Pronger didn't become Pronger without awareness of this as well.
He never went to the box last night.
He was on the ice for all five of the Flyers' goals.
He was there at the end, after successive penalties to Scott Hartnell and Braydon Coburn made the ending a little too hairy for everyone of the 20,304 in attendance, and for most of the Flyers as well.
"Were you disappointed with the way it ended?" someone asked Pronger.
He smirked the way he has all postseason. "Oh, yeah," he said. "It sucks losing a hockey game."
The other day Mike Richards lauded his calm, lauded how it has carried into the entire room. It's a big difference between the two teams, a piece the Flyers have on and off the ice that Chicago does not.
He has become the Flyers' answer to Brad Lidge in 2008, that missing piece that became too good to be true. Lidge closed every tight game in that run, got every big out. Pronger is not only a threat, he is a salve for when things go a little haywire, the way they did there at the end, when Chicago turned 4-1 into 4-3 and nearly had the equalizer.
And then there is that other stuff, what drives all those municipalities crazy. If the Flyers do win this series, the puck-stealing will be part of Stanley Cup folklore, and Pronger one of its most talked about villain/heroes.
Why did he take the winning puck after Games 1 and 2?
"I didn't know the winning team was allowed to keep the puck," he said. "Is that a rule? Can you look in the rule book for me?"
Did he mind being hated in every NHL city other than the one in which he currently plays?
"Old hat now," Pronger said. "It is what it is."
The Flyers won Game 3 with the aid of two power-play goals. They won Game 4 at least partly because the Blackhawks took three dumb penalties in the offensive zone early, triggering yet another power-play goal, fueling home momentum.
And fueling talk, leading into tomorrow's game, about head games and mental framework and a younger Chicago team feeling the heat after two straight losses. Quenneville shuffled his lines last night looking for a spark. He spoke about the need to be smart and composed after the loss, but clearly Chicago's strategy from the start was to initiate things.
No one asked him about Pronger. That will begin anew today, about Pronger and the razor's edge he skates.
Is he getting away with high crimes out there?
Or has a player, once so penalized, figured out this game so well that he now can manipulate it to his liking?
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