CHICAGO - For Chris Pronger, the sound of boos raining down from the crowd each time the puck made contact with his stick yesterday was nothing new.
Pronger has been booed religiously in rinks around the league - including Edmonton, his former hometown. In Edmonton, Pronger was once described as "Public Enemy No. 1" after requesting a trade through his agent for personal reasons.
But the boos yesterday, at the United Center, were for an entirely different reason.
"It was nice to feel welcomed," Pronger said.
Blackhawks fans want their puck back - after Pronger picked up the game puck from Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals and skated off with it, to the protest of the Blackhawks players and their fans.
"I have it," Pronger said. "It's tucked away somewhere. It'll wind up on eBay at some point. All proceeds will go to the person that buys its charity."
Chicago won that game, 2-1, to take a 2-0 lead in the series. The Flyers went on to win the next two games at the Wells Fargo Center before Pronger tried to take the puck again after the Blackhawks' win in Game 5.
Pronger made headlines as the puck thief, so much so that a Chicago establishment - Harry Caray's, a restaurant named after the late Cubs broadcaster - publicly offered $50,000 for the puck Pronger swiped.
"If they want to give me 50-grand, I'll donate it to charity," Pronger said. "You get me their name and number and I'll do it."
Who would have thought a piece of vulcanized rubber could cause such a commotion?
A full 7 months later, no one knows who skated off with the puck from Patrick Kane's overtime Cup-winning goal on June 9 that silenced the Wells Fargo Center and the Flyers' dream run. Surely, the Hall of Fame - not to mention Kane - would be interested.
Blackhawks fans immediately pointed the finger at Pronger, even though he wasn't even on the ice when Kane scored.
It took the referees some time to find the puck that sneaked behind Michael Leighton.
"I was on the bench," Pronger said, coming clean. "I was a little disappointed at that point to skate all the way down there and get the puck. That might've been a little much. If I'm on the ice and it's right in front of me, that's a different story. I would think one of them, maybe they would've grabbed it. Somebody should look at the video. There's 18 cameras out there, somebody's got to have it."
With Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both politely bowing out of this weekend's All-Star Game in Raleigh, N.C. - Crosby because of a concussion and Malkin with a knee injury, as reported by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review - many expected the NHL to inquire about Mike Richards' services as a replacement.
As of yesterday, the Flyers said that they hadn't received a call about the captain, who has 45 points in 49 games.
But Richards said he wouldn't be able to make it if asked - and not because he had hurt feelings about not being selected or because he is nursing an injury. After tomorrow night's game against Montreal, the Flyers will scatter before meeting next Monday to fly to Tampa.
"It's not too late to go," Richards said. "But it's too late for me to say yes. I've already committed to too many other people to do too many other things, and it would be bad to back out now."
James van Riemsdyk didn't want to get into details when describing his vague lower-body injury, but he missed yesterday's matinee in Chicago after taking a spill in the third period at home on Saturday afternoon against New Jersey.
"I fell awkwardly and tweaked something," van Riemsdyk said. "It's just a little something. We'll see how it feels."
In turn, Dan Carcillo returned to the lineup yesterday for the first time after missing the last six games as a healthy scratch and contributed with an entertaining fight, two hits and two shots on goal.
Van Riemsdyk, one of the Flyers' more consistent players over the past couple of weeks, is hoping to be ready to play tomorrow night against Montreal. He has 12 goals and 11 assists in 44 games.