By now, Dustin Byfuglien
's lower back may have an imprint of the word "Warrior" tattooed across it thanks to battles in front of Philadelphia's net with towering Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger
Along with his now-infamous "puck thefts" following the first two games of this Stanley Cup Final series, Pronger's tactics with his "Warrior" brand stick while combating the 6-foot-4, 257-pound Byfuglien have earned him the title of "Most Hated Man in Chicago," a moniker he seems to relish.
Pronger's back whacks have become a storyline of their own as this knotted series shifts to Sunday night's pivotal Game 5 at United Center (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS). Fans throughout Chicago are tying up phone lines of local sports radio stations and filling Internet message board to complain about it.
Even the Hawks have griped about it, albeit subtly, to both officials and reporters. Now, there's only one thing left to do -- deal with it.
"It's a part of hockey," veteran Hawks defenseman Brian Campbell
said Sunday morning. "It's a part of battles, one-on-one battles. Everybody can do it, so it's effective on both sides."
It's just that the Hawks haven't really tried similar tactics against Philly's forwards yet, and there's a sense that if they did they'd get whistled for it. That's something the Hawks simply cannot afford to risk anymore, with the Flyers already 5-of-16 on the power play through four games.
"If he's playing within the rules, then that's fine," Campbell said of Pronger's stick work. "If he's not, then we don't need to retaliate or anything to make it evened up or a disadvantage."
Campbell touched on a key problem area for dealing with Pronger's physicality – retaliation. Even the slightest retaliatory actions have been penalized so far, which continually keeps the Hawks on their heels instead of attacking.
In that sense, Pronger is dominating this series -- regardless of the legality or illegality of his methods. If he weren't playing against Pronger, Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook
might even admire the veteran's skillful ability to not draw attention to his "Warrior" whacks.
"No, I don't think they do that (all) that much," Seabrook said, when asked if officials allow Pronger to get away with more because of his tenure. "It's the Stanley Cup Final. I don't want to say the refs are favoring a player more than our player, but like I said, he's good at it, doing that and getting away with it, and doing it where maybe the ref can't see it. He's great at it."
When asked if he'd be able to do the same sort of thing to the Flyers, Seabrook hunched his shoulders.
"Um ... I don't know," he said. "He's pretty good with that thing. He's found a way to do it without getting caught."
Pronger's also found a way to negate Byfuglien and other Hawks forwards. That's why it's now crucial for Chicago to counteract those whacks and shoves by more than just complaining or waiting for a penalty call.
"He does a good job of playing defense and he makes it tough to get to the areas to get to loose pucks in front of the net," Hawks forward Patrick Sharp
said. "He's been in the League for a long time and he seems to know his way around those penalties. It's not on him or the refs. It's on us to outwork him and use our speed to draw some penalties."
Campbell agreed. He also suggested that maybe the Hawks need to give the Flyers some of their own "Pronger" medicine.
"If the ref's not calling it, then no, I don't think we would go to the box," he said. "It is what it is. Whatever he's doing is legal, so we need to deal with it. We need to do a better job with that. A penalty is a penalty … at least it should be. If it's a penalty it should be called, and if it's not and it doesn't get called, then you move on."