The towering Anaheim defenceman’s return to the ice after sitting out a game for his hit to the head of Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom will prompt relentless booing.
It won’t bother Pronger, who was in a sunny mood after practice Saturday.
“Pretty fun, pretty fun,” he replied when asked how the last couple of days had gone.
He wasn’t backing down from this comment on the Holmstrom hit as reported by the Los Angeles Times: “Of course I’m going to hit him in the head. He’s quite a bit shorter than me. It’s just a law of physics.”
The newspaper also quoted the six-foot-six blue-liner as saying pressure from the media – Canadian media in particular – led to the suspension. He wouldn’t bite when lured to elaborate.
“I’m not going to rehash what was said long ago,” he said. “I need to focus on the game and not worry about what you guys want or don’t want me to say.”
But what examples from the Canadian media could we look to?
“I don’t want to get into that stuff, bud,” said Pronger. “I just want to play the game.”
With the NHL’s Western Conference final tied 2-2, one of these two outstanding teams will be pushed to the brink of elimination Sunday afternoon.
The Pronger-Holmstrom subplot adds spice.
“Any time you are at this stage of the playoffs, when teams play over and over and over again, there’s always going to be bad blood,” said Pronger. “There’s always going to be emotions playing a part in the series and this is no different.”
He won’t change his bruising ways.
“I can not and I will not,” he said.
Holmstrom says he wasn’t surprised it was Pronger who delivered the hit, which resulted in two forehead wounds requiring 13 stitches to close.
“I’ve seen him do that before so I’m not surprised he did it again,” said Holmstrom, suggesting there was specific intent attached to the hit.
“I wouldn’t be surprised, for sure,” he said.
Holmstrom won’t back down.
“I’m going to do my job the same way and go to the front of the net,” he said. “He’s probably going to give me a beating again, but I’ll just keep coming back.”
He declined to comment on the length of the suspension.
“I don’t really care about that anymore,” he said. “I’m just going forward and I’m going to play a game (Sunday). I don’t care.”
Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek entered into the war of words when he learned of Pronger’s comments on the hit as reported in the Times.
“If he said anything like that it’s a shame because it was a clear hit to Thomas’ head and he knew exactly what he was doing,” said Hasek. “He was putting his gloves on Tomas’ head and into the glass.
“He knows what he’s done but we can’t pay too much attention to that. It’s a very important game and nobody wants to spend too much time in the penalty box. Everybody will be paying attention to playing hockey and scoring goals.”
Red Wings forward Dan Cleary agreed that the Pronger-Holmstrom subplot is unlikely to distract the players.
“We’re certainly not going to be caught up in it,” said Cleary. “Sure, there’ll be a little bit of hostility amongst the fans towards him.
“That’ll be the extent of it. I really thought that Anaheim found a way to play great without Pronger (in winning Game 4 to tie the series), and when a guy like that comes back into the lineup . . . he’s obviously a great player and a huge presence. We’ve just got to try to play the same way we have been playing.”
About 80 per cent of teams that win Game 5 go on to win a series. So, there is too much is at stake to let tempers override brains Sunday.
“That’s not the way to go about winning a series,” said Ducks defenceman Scott Niedermayer.
The Ducks need to take fewer penalties and convert power plays, he said. That’s the key for his team. It’ll be a key for the Red Wings, too.
“You need four lines going and you need to have your special teams working,” said Niedermayer. “Special teams are all-important in trying to win a playoff series and both sides have had a little bit of success, which is why it’s 2-2.”
The Ducks chowed down on chili and buns in their dressing room. The players could not have been more upbeat. Pronger was in a great mood. He was asked how practice went.
“Awesome, thank you,” he replied.
His reappearance in the series will create quite a stir.