Every NHL fan knows that watching a game in person changes everything. You follow hockey differently after that. During the Stanley Cup Final, NHL.com Editor-in-Chief Bob Condor will be watching games from various locations inside the arenas in Chicago and Philadelphia -- to give the both fan and insider perspectives.
CHICAGO -- Villains are necessary for championship storylines; that's what NBC host Dan Patrick was saying Sunday during the Blackhawks' morning skate before the night's rollicking 7-4 win at ear-popping United Center.
"Like Pronger," Patrick said.
The villain with one name.
Patrick, who would certainly be qualified on the subject, said he admired Chris Pronger's sense of humor as a young player in St. Louis and added that he particularly appreciates the Flyers defenseman's aptitude for "snark" in these late, veteran days of a first-ballot Hall of Fame career.
Here in Chicago? Pronger's snark? Not so much.
The booing of Pronger turned full-throated six minutes into the FIRST PERIOD, when on a random rush of the puck, the Flyers' D-man (who again led his team in time on ice with 28:37) was jeered just seconds after a lively Blackhawks power play. NHL.com's Stanley Cup Final decibel meter (email if you are interested in sponsorship opportunities) recorded 97 dB on the first set of boos. Later in the period, the yelling rose to 103 dB -- which, if you have been scoring at home, equates to a motorcycle roaring through your bedroom an hour before you wake up.
When Pronger was whistled for a two-minute hooking penalty at 15:18 of the SECOND PERIOD, the decibels ratcheted up to 104 for the announcement and 105 when the stone-faced Pronger was shown on the video screen. Both numbers are equated to motorcycles, apparently with more horsepower.
It's clear after five Stanley Cup Final games with the decibel meter in tow that video screens can incite crowds, less during programmed calls for noise and more when fans can see heroes (fave shot is home team leaving the dressing room) or villains.
Pronger's demeanor in the penalty box was decidedly noncommittal -- same as the other night -- though he clearly winced leaving the box 27 seconds later when Dustin Byfuglien scored on the power play. Byfuglien, who laid out Pronger with a big hit earlier in the period, hammered his nemesis again in the THIRD PERIOD right in front of the scorer's table. That one was an even 100 decibels (blender at ear level) but clanged his teammates even louder. After the game, Patrick Kane talked up Big Buff's big hits.
Byfuglien took on all comers, including one exchange in front of the net with Philly defenseman Braydon Coburn. The two looked like they were trying to flip and body slam each other like a pair of old-school pro wrestlers.
For his part, Kane consistently out-quicked (only the most technical terms in "Three Periods") Pronger, Coburn and any other backliner for the Philadelphia. A spin-o-rama move on Pronger no doubt made more than a few Blackhawks fans think about Denis Savard, recent coach and current ambassador and No. 1 spinner in Chicago fan's hearts.
Kane simply had more room to operate, likely since even Pronger can't guard Kane, Jonathan Toews and Byfuglien all at once when they play on three different lines. Kris Versteeg was another Hawk who looked more free-range Sunday than at any time in Games 3 and 4. It was no coincidence Versteeg scored the Hawks' third goal.
Later, Versteeg was quiet in the penalty box after being whistled for slashing during the third period when the game was still in doubt. Well, he started quiet, motionless, actually, with his stick splayed out and blade up and out in front of him. Versteeg did stand up during the second minute when Philly was threatening to make it a one-goal game. At ice level, from Versteeg's vantage point, here's what he saw that potentially worried him: A hard, low shot by Jeff Carter was lasering toward the lower right corner of the Chicago net when Antti Niemi gloved it just in time despite leg traffic.
Perhaps it's because this taut Cup Final reached Game 5 Sunday, but every visitor to the penalty box spent the two regulation minutes in repose rather than response. Admittedly, Daniel Carcillo wasn't dressed. He was livid in Game 3 at Philly, pleading with referee Dan O'Halloran to at least look up at the video screen to evaluate his charging call on Carcillo. Pleading is a euphemism; you can spice it up accordingly. After straight pleading didn't work, Carcillo switched his case to ask (another euphemism) O'Halloran to at least look at the play after the game. About this point is when O'Halloran stepped to the penalty-box door and said something to the Flyers' agitator. Impressively, that was the end of the pleading and asking; Carcillo took a seat and a towel.
In another morning skate visit, Edmonton Oilers coach Pat Quinn, who coached another No. 7 seed into the Cup Final (Vancouver in 1994) was noting that somehow the Flyers were looking faster in this series than the speed-vaulted Blackhawks. That all changed during Sunday's first period, right from the first shift. Toews and Marian Hossa started the track meet, while Dave Bolland skated like a fiend all game and Duncan Keith returned up-the-ice rushes that local fans were seeing from him all season.
Andrew Ladd was another pusher for the Blackhawks in Game 5. Pulling in his own shot's rebound, Ladd dished a perfect pass to Kane, who buried Chicago's fourth goal to festoon one of the night's loudest ovations. Ladd and his stick blade seemed to be in the right place a lot of the right times.
The Hawks' winger isn't likely to be on the lineup bubble come Wednesday for Game 6 in Philadelphia. We'll see how the Flyers do on the series bubble.