Ch-Ch-Cha-Changes in Chicago
CHICAGO – Chris Pronger won't take credit.
But he is just one of the reasons why the Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville may shake up his lines and/or lineup for Sunday's Game 5, as the Flyers aim to take a 3-2 series lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Finals.
The Flyers swept both games at the Wachovia Center this week, leaving it a best-of-three series for Lord Stanley's chalice. It was the first time Chicago lost back-to-back games in the playoffs and just the first time they've lost back-to-back road games since November.
"We'll look at the line combinations as we go into tomorrow's game," Quenneville said. "We might make some adjustments as far as who is who. We know it's a battle going forward and we need to be ready."
Chicago's first line of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien has posted just one goal in the first four games. Those three players – including Toews, who is still the NHL's leading playoff scorer – are a collective minus-12.
While he would not mind being the reason, Pronger wouldn't take credit – offering it instead to his teammates.
"I don't necessarily think it's [me]," Pronger said. "If you go back and look, our forwards have done a great job. You look at the line that's scoring against them, it's the Briere line. That's done a great job of making them play defense. Which, obviously, they don't want to do. They want to play offense. They want to have the puck. They want to control the pace of the game, control the game that way.
"This game is five man units on the ice having chemistry. We've done a pretty good job of that thus far."
Lacking momentum after two straight losses, Quenneville could remove Byfuglien to another line or choose to break up Toews and Kane and play them on separate units.
Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he noticed multiple changes in Chicago's scheme and units as the series progressed from Game 3 to 4 and then in Game 4 itself.
"There was quite a few changes, I thought," Laviolette said. "You know, they changed their lines. More than once. I thought their system and their approach to the game had changed. They are trying to play a more aggressive game."
Change lines would also be an aggressive move for Quenneville. Any line changes could potentially backfire, as it sends a public message that his top players aren't good enough to play against the Flyers' top players.
Pronger, too, sees it going both ways.
"I guess it could go two ways," Pronger explained. "One, [the new lines] haven't played together that much. So maybe they're a little out of whack. Or B, it sparks them and fresh linemates and a new look, that gives them a little bit more offensive spark. I don't know. We'll see."
Chicago's potential changes won't rattle the Flyers before Game 5.
Laviolette said the Flyers don't "tailor" their system to just one player or one line.
"[Their changes are] really out of our hands," Pronger added. "All we can do is continue to get better, play even better defensively and make sure that we're keeping them in the perimeter, and Mike [Leighton] can see all the shots."
So far, Leighton has seen most of the shots. He made another 31 saves in Game 4.
Now, just two wins away, the Flyers have the Stanley Cup in their sights, too. It will take at least one win in Chicago to grab it.
The Flyers are an incredible 9-0 in Games 4-7 in the playoffs. Here's the breakdown:
Eastern Conference Quarterfinals
Game 4 vs. New Jersey – W 4-1
Game 5 at New Jersey – W 3-0
Eastern Conference Semifinals
Game 4 vs. Boston – W 5-4 (OT)
Game 5 at Boston – W 4-0
Game 6 vs. Boston – W 2-1
Game 7 at Boston – W 4-3
Eastern Conference Finals
Game 4 at Montreal – W 3-0
Game 5 vs. Montreal – W 4-2
Stanley Cup Finals
Game 4 vs. Chicago – W 5-3
Game 5 at Chicago - ?
Game 6 vs. Chicago - ?
In those 9 games, the Flyers have outscored their opponent 34-14 – with three of those being shutouts (all on the road).
Pronger couldn't put his finger on why the Flyers have been so successful in the later stages of series – but hinted that it may have something to do with familiarity.
"I think you see teams over and over again," Pronger said. You start to figure out what works and what doesn't. You start to feel better as a team. We've obviously gotten better with not only each series, but in games we get better with each period, or so it seems.
"I don't really know what the reason for it is, but we've certainly done a good job and hopefully that will continue for us."
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