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After looking defenseless, Ducks absorb another blow for Game 4 @NHL

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) - After looking practically defenseless in their lopsided loss to Detroit, the Anaheim Ducks absorbed another blow when Chris Pronger was suspended Wednesday for one game.

Pronger, Anaheim's best player during the playoffs, will miss Thursday night's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.

The NHL disciplined the Ducks' defenseman, a former Norris Trophy winner and a finalist for the award this year, for a blow to the head of Tomas Holmstrom in the Red Wings' 5-0 victory Tuesday night that gave them a 2-1 lead in the series.

Pronger leads the Ducks with 12 points this postseason, including three goals.

Anaheim general manager Brian Burke, while expressing his respect for the NHL's process and league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, said the Ducks completely disagree with Campbell's decision.

"If you watch some of the other views, it looks like a dangerous, high hit. If you look at the end zone view, I think it shows best that Chris Pronger went to hit Tomas Holmstrom at a 45-degree angle from the boards," Burke said.

"At no point is Chris delivering a hit toward the boards, a dangerous hit. He's coming in to finish a check at a 45-degree angle. Rob Niedermayer steps into the player (Holmstrom), pins him, you get a high finish."

Holmstrom had two goals and an assist in the Red Wings' Game 3 romp, but he had to leave the game midway through the second period to get 13 stitches to close two cuts on his forehead after Pronger and Niedermayer slammed into him almost simultaneously.

Niedermayer drew a major penalty for boarding and was ejected, but Pronger was not assessed a penalty on the play. The NHL reviewed the play Wednesday, with Pronger speaking to the league on the phone, and the suspension was quickly levied.

Holmstrom returned to begin the third period and assisted on the Red Wings' final goal.

Asked if he thought Pronger's suspension was just, Holmstrom said after practice Wednesday: "One game, it's the NHL's decision. If I'd gotten a concussion or maybe couldn't play anymore in the series, maybe it would be more.

"But I came back and that was probably fortunate for him."

With clear tape covering the stitches above his right eye and on his left forehead just below the hairline, Holmstrom added, "You've got to take those head shots away from the game, and one game (suspension) doesn't mean much. But hopefully it doesn't repeat."

Detroit coach Mike Babcock, the Ducks' coach when they made the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, said Holmstrom's attitude is what the Red Wings are all about.

"You can cross-check him, you can smack him, you can do whatever you want. He's going to keep coming," Babcock said. "We plan on doing the same thing."

Burke said he appreciated the way Babcock handled the situation after Holmstrom was hurt, not dramatizing it and sending him back into the game.

The Ducks' GM mentioned some of the factors involved in Pronger's hit, including the fact that the defenseman is 6-foot-6 and Holmstrom is 6-1.

"I think if Rob Niedermayer doesn't come into this play, I'm not here (talking about it), there's no hearing, there's no issue," Burke said.

Pronger didn't speak with reporters.

"He's sour about it," Burke said. "That's why he's not talking to you guys. The league doesn't like us swearing. I don't want Chris to talk to anyone today."

Before the suspension was announced, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle was asked about the possibility of not having Pronger for the next game.

"Obviously he's a big part of our hockey club. But, again, we've had stretches through the season where he wasn't on our blue line," Carlyle said. "We'll move other people in, make some adjustments with our personnel. Other people will have to share those minutes."

Detroit goalie Dominik Hasek, who logged his second shutout of this year's playoffs and 14th of his career by making 29 saves in Game 3, expects the Ducks to play better.

"I definitely expect them to be better-prepared," he said. "They made a lot of mistakes, drew a lot of penalties and I'm sure they'll be determined not to do that again."

Hasek believes Pronger's absence could give the Ducks even more motivation, saying, "Their other players will try to step up, and some of them will be getting a lot more minutes on special teams."

Babcock, asked if a player like Pronger can have a major impact on a game, said, "I think all the best players make a huge impact on the game. But if you think they (the Ducks) are going away just because of one guy. ...'

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