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Flyers getting most of five-man checking unit

by Dave Lozo
CHICAGO -- Call the Flyers' five-man unit of Ville Leino, Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, Matt Carle and Chris Pronger the home wreckers, because they've caused the separation of Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.

The Blackhawks' dynamic duo, which combined for 13 goals and 32 assists in 16 games entering the Stanley Cup Final, was split up during the Flyers' 5-3 victory in Game 4 on Friday night and has totaled just 1 goal and 3 assists in the series.

Much of the credit has been given to Pronger, the future Hall-of-Fame defenseman who has three assists and is plus-7 in the series. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has been a roadblock that neither Toews nor Kane has been able to drive through or around during the Final.

Getting lost in the play of the Flyers' favorite for the Conn Smythe Trophy is the effort of forwards Leino, Briere and Hartnell, who have essentially been the team's checking line against Toews, Kane and hulking winger Dustin Byfuglien. The Flyers' trio hasn't been imposing its will on the Blackhawks with stifling defense; they've shown the best defense is a good offense.

Toews has said on multiple occasions that his line has been chasing the puck lately, and that's because the Flyers have been the ones possessing it. Leino has 3 goals and an assist and is plus-1; Briere has 2 goals and 5 assists and is plus-2; and Hartnell has been a physical force while contributing 2 goals, 4 assists and a plus-2 rating.

If the Flyers constantly have the puck in the Blackhawks zone, Toews and Kane can't contribute offensively.

"If you go back and look, our forwards have done a great job," Pronger said. "You look at the line that's scoring against them, it's the Briere line. It's done a great job of making them play defense, which obviously they don't want to do. They want to play offense, they want to have the puck, control the pace of the game, control the game that way. That line has done a great job of controlling the tempo of the game and controlling the puck and making them play in areas where they don't want to.

"This game is five-man units on the ice having chemistry and we've done a pretty job of that thus far."

Even Kane said Saturday that Leino, Briere and Hartnell have been doing the job against him in the series: "I'm going to give a lot of credit to their forwards and the way they've been coached as far as how to back check us and play us in the zone at the top, and that seems like where we're struggling a little bit," he said.

If Pronger is the big defensive star and the Leino-Briere-Hartnell unit is receiving the praise for scoring while checking Toews and Kane, what's left for Carle?

The 25-year-old, who gets lost in the imposing shadow of his defensive partner Pronger, has been just as steady and chipped in with a big goal in Friday's Game 4.

"I think sometimes he gets lost when he's next to Chris Pronger, because Chris is such a dominating player on the ice," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "I've said this all year, Matt has to play against the same players that Chris is playing against, and they're usually pretty good players.

"For somebody that doesn't have the same stature and size as Chris on the ice, he's a smaller player, he defends very well. He positions himself well in the defensive zone. He never really puts himself in a bad position. He makes it a really good first pass. He gets himself out of trouble with his skating. They've been a really good pair the entire year."

But now that Toews and Kane are no longer together, what does it mean for the Flyers' five-man unit? Will they stay matched up against one of them or wait to see which one is hotter in Game 5?

"I guess it could go two ways," Pronger said. "One, they haven't played together that much so maybe they're a little out of whack or it sparks them and fresh linemates and a new look gives them a little bit more of an offensive punch. We'll see."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DLozoNHL

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