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Pronger a force behind Flyers' learning, success

By Mike G. Morreale - NHL.com Staff Writer

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Pronger a force behind Flyers' learning, success
Veteran Philadelphia defenseman Chris Pronger is a leader in action and a leader in ice time, playing big minutes as the Flyers attempt to stage a comeback from a 3-0 deficit.
BOSTON -- Chris Pronger has been through the playoff wars. He's been to two Stanley Cup Finals and has won hockey's Holy Grail once, so he's seen it all.

He logged a little over 30 minutes a game along the blue line during those playoff runs with Edmonton (30:57) in 2006 and Anaheim (30:11) in 2007, and he's almost matching that ice time this postseason with the Philadelphia Flyers (29:44).

He's accrued at least 30 minutes in four of 10 postseason games this spring, including an incredible 37:33 out of a possible 74:40 in an overtime victory in Game 4 in Philadelphia on May 7. He's proud of the way the Flyers have persevered despite the loss of leading goal-scorer Jeff Carter (fractured right foot), penalty-killing specialist Ian Laperriere (brain contusion) and, now, goalie Brian Boucher (lower body).

"We put ourselves in enough of them, so (playing despite the absence of injured players) is practice, I guess," Pronger said. "We have learned a lot about ourselves with all of the ups and downs and different things that we face. When you put yourself in that position you test yourself, you start to figure out what you're made of."

"We've had our ups and downs with respects to penalties. We kind of lost our composure at times. Over the last couple months of the season and into the playoffs, we have done an excellent job at keeping our heads about us and realizing what is at stake."
-- Chris Pronger

The 35-year-old Pronger must be made of steel to be leading the team in ice time and blocked shots (27). But he admits the relatively young Flyers, while playing extremely well for the rash of injuries they've been dealt, still are learning.

In fact, when Boucher went down early in the second period with a serious leg injury, Pronger didn't put much thought into how his team would survive without the player who had backstopped them to that point.

"It has happened before," Pronger said. "It's just another long line of things that have happened through the course of the year. We have been shooting on Leights (Michael Leighton) for the last week and a half, two weeks, and he has looked pretty sharp. I was not too concerned."

Pronger, who logged 27:44 of ice time -- including 8:48 on the power play -- on 31 shifts Monday, did sense the goalie change was a bit of a wake-up call.

"We needed to get things tightened up a little bit more (after Boucher left)," Pronger said. "They got a couple of good chances. Boosh made a couple good stops. The puck went through the crease and he reaches back there; it's an unfortunate incident. We had to rally and wanted to play well in front of (Leighton).

"I think we just started moving the puck a lot better (when Leighton took over). Our forwards did a good job of coming back and allowing us to stand up. Our defense did a good job of getting it out quickly, allowing our forwards to get on top of them and get on the forecheck."

If there's one thing that does drive Pronger batty, however, it's having his club whistled for unnecessary penalties.

"I think that is something that we have had to learn to control the entire season -- how to control our emotions," Pronger said. "Playing at that intense state yet being under control. As a young team it takes a lot of learning."

The Flyers were the most penalized team in the regular season, with 496 penalties totaling 1,350 minutes (16.6 minutes per game), and are 12th of 16 teams in the postseason with 56 minors totaling 122 minutes (12.8 minutes per game).

"We've had our ups and downs with respects to penalties," Pronger said. "We kind of lost our composure at times. Over the last couple months of the season and into the playoffs, we have done an excellent job at keeping our heads about us and realizing what is at stake."

Pronger, who has appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 14 consecutive seasons, knows the Flyers remain in a very vulnerable position, as not since the 1975 New York Islanders has a team rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to advance. When Pronger played for the Oilers, his team rallied from a 3-1 series deficit in the Cup Final against the Carolina Hurricanes before losing Game 7 in Raleigh, 3-1.

"They're still sitting in the driver's seat," Pronger said. "One win and they advance. We have to be ready for Game 6 and come with the same effort we did in (Game 5) when we moved our feet well and our forwards did a good job of backside pressuring."

Contact Mike Morreale at mmorreale@nhl.com
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