PHILADELPHIA – Chris Pronger’s wry smile and sharp tongue hardly suggested he and the Philadelphia Flyers are shaken by big Dustin Byfuglien and the suddenly potent Chicago Blackhawks.
Pronger is coming off the worst performance of his career—a shockingly brutal minus-5 rating in the Flyers’ 7-4 loss in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup final on Sunday night that has put Philadelphia down 3-2 and on the brink of elimination yet again.
The Flyers have two days off before they have to deal with Byfuglien and the Blackhawks again Wednesday. Philadelphia seemingly has Chicago right where it wants, at home in the Wachovia Center, where the Flyers are 9-1 in the playoffs—including 2-0 in the final.
“Playing in front of your home crowd, you feed off that energy in the building,” Pronger said. “It’s funny about the finals, but it seems to go that way all the time. You look at the first three rounds, teams are getting knocked off at home left and right. You get to the finals, and teams seem to hold serve. Hope we could do that in Game 6.
“We have a couple of days to rally the troops. We have had a lot of tough losses in the playoffs thus far. We’ll be all right.”
If the Flyers don’t find their mojo again Wednesday night, the Blackhawks will claim the Cup for the first time since 1961 and stretch Philadelphia’s hockey title drought to 35 years. Game 7, if necessary, would be Friday back in Chicago, where the Blackhawks have already won three games in this series.
Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette kept the Flyers mostly away from hockey Monday after the club returned from Chicago. Only he met with the media on the first day of the lone two-day break between games in the series. Outside of lunch together, the Flyers took a step back Monday from the daunting task at hand.
“Our guys are getting away today,” Laviolette said. “We’ll do work tomorrow.”
There have been 20 other Stanley Cup finals that were tied 2-2. Of those, only six teams that lost Game 5 rallied to win the series. The Pittsburgh Penguins, though, did it last year.
And the Flyers have been spitting in the face of history since claiming their place in the playoffs on the final day of the regular season.
Philadelphia became just the third NHL team to erase a 3-0 series deficit and win when it knocked out the Boston Bruins in the second round.
“I don’t know if being down 3-0 in a series is pressure enough,” Pronger said. “It’s the finals. We’re going home. We understand what’s at stake, obviously. Peter has been there before, as well. He’s done a pretty good job thus far of keeping everybody’s focus and pointing out what we need to do to fix tough games like we had (Sunday).”
Byfuglien had been bottled up by Pronger in a way the San Jose Sharks only dreamed about doing when they were swept by the Blackhawks in the Western Conference final. Byfuglien scored the winning goal in three of Chicago’s four victories in that series and became Pronger’s No. 1 priority in the championship round.
All went well until Sunday.
Byfuglien broke out and did it at the expense of Pronger, who, at 6-foot-6 and 220 pounds, is one of the few NHL players who can stand up to and deal with the physical presence of the 6-4, 257-pound Blackhawks defenceman-turned-forward.
“If we look just for Chris Pronger to do it, everybody will be in trouble,” Laviolette said. “We are a team that, by all accounts, we win together, and usually it’s a team effort. When we lose, well, we do it as a team. Everybody could have been a little bit better last night.
“I’m sure Chris will have a big game and lead the way. But others … we need to make sure that we have all hands on deck.”
Pronger was on the ice for six of Chicago’s seven goals in Game 5. He was hardly spared from the other goal, either, as it was scored while the defenceman sat in the penalty box. On top of that embarrassment, Pronger was sent flying off his skates and into the boards by a rattling hit by Byfuglien.
“I guess he’s well rested,” Pronger said.