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Flyers, Bruins each rely on dominant big man

by Mike G. Morreale /
PHILADELPHIA -- Boston Bruins forward Mark Recchi can recall the days when big, plodding defensemen were better suited as pylons than shutdown blueliners.
"You could beat them with your speed and get them spinning a little bit," the 43-year-old veteran said. "But then you started to see the Scott Stevens and Al Iafrates enter the mix and the game started changing a little bit. Big defensemen were no longer just nasty, but they could skate."
Philadelphia's Chris Pronger and Boston's Zdeno Chara have been exemplary of the new and improved big man along the blue line for some time now. Pronger has been doing it now for 17 seasons with five different teams and Chara for 13 with three clubs.
"It's tougher when you play those big guys," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "You look at the effectiveness of some of the big guys in the playoffs, Pronger, Chara, (Hal) Gill (of Montreal). Guys that are consuming a lot of ice out there and it becomes difficult because they play such a big role."

Flyers captain Mike Richards agrees.
"(Chara) is six feet and nine inches and is extremely strong," Richards said. "He makes it tough to go around the corners and has a big shot. He has a great hockey sense and makes it tough to play against him. He finishes his checks and plays strong. For us to have success, we're going to have to lay the puck in behind him and make a move and make his life back there a little difficult."
Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, who was a teammate of Pronger's in Anaheim during the 2006-07 campaign, knows the impact both players have had for their teams.
"When I played with Prongs, he was the same player every night," Thornton said. "He was mean -- borderline mean. But that's the way he plays. It doesn't matter who you are. He brings that intensity every night. We expect it and he obviously doesn't disappoint."
"I think they're pretty different as much as they are physical," Boston defenseman Andrew Ference said. "I look at the way they play the game. Pronger is a mean man in front of the net and he plays with a real edge and rides that line of legal and not legal and he does it as well as anybody.
"Z can be tough as hell, but I don't think he rides that line as much with some of the play in front of the net."
Ference also revealed one other difference.
"I think Pronger likes to hold on to the puck longer when he brings it up ice," he said. "Z makes that quick outlet pass and moves to join the rush where Pronger holds onto it. So I don't see them being super similar, but they're very tall and strong. Did I mention that?"
Pronger is well aware of what Chara is capable of doing on the ice. In fact, he's in tune to what many of the League's top defenders can accomplish and admits he's never too old to learn something new.
"I'm not watching them specifically," Pronger said. "I'm watching a play in general. How they handle X-player, what that player tried to do to beat them, what they did to negate it, what they didn't do and got beat. All those little things are what you look for. I don't necessarily key in on (Nicklas) Lidstrom or Chara. You're kind of looking to see what they do effectively to stymie a 3-on-2, pick up a 2-on-1 or intercept a pass. You try and see what he's reading."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale

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