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Iron man: Pronger seems everywhere in Stanley Cup finals @NHLdotcom

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) - There's Chris Pronger, whacking an opponent who has the nerve to venture in front of his net.

There's Chris Pronger, taking control of the power play.

There's Chris Pronger, sacrificing his body to kill off a penalty.

There's Chris Pronger, wind-milling that long stick of his to unleash a fearsome slap shot from the blue line.

Geez, this guy seems to be everywhere.

Pronger has been a dominating presence for the Edmonton Oilers in these playoffs, and he's not slowing down one bit in the Stanley Cup finals. The 31-year-old defenseman is working double-time - heck, triple-time - in hopes of getting his name on that silver trophy for the first time.

"I don't feel like a spring chicken," Pronger said. "But I feel as good as I've ever felt during any year in the playoffs."

No one would blame this 6-foot-6 mountain of a man if he pleads exhaustion. Pronger has spent an astonishing amount of time on the ice for the Oilers, a definite throwback in this era when shifts are measured in seconds instead of minutes.

In Edmonton's Game 5 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, he played a staggering 33 minutes, 46 seconds. Except for the goaltenders, who don't have to do all that skating, no one else on either team played more than 25:36; most players were on the ice less than 20 minutes.

"I monitor his time and I reprimand Charlie (Huddy, an assistant who works with the defense) if it's anything under 30 minutes," Edmonton coach Craig MacTavish quipped.

Pronger said his extended playing time isn't quite as heroic as everyone makes it out to be. This is his 12th year in the league, and he's learned to pick his spots. He'll hang back on some offensive rushes, giving his legs a rest while remaining on the ice. He rarely ventures across center ice while killing a penalty, preferring to do most of his offensive work when the Oilers are on the power play.

"I don't play like those defensemen who jump into the play constantly," he said. "I'm not going to waste a whole lot of energy. I don't want to use my legs up, so I'll be fresh when I go back to get the puck."

The Hurricanes admire Pronger for his iron-man effort, but they're also trying to figure out ways to tire him out heading into Saturday night's Game 6. Carolina has a 3-2 lead in the series and will try to for the second time to finish off the Oilers, who kept things going with a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 5.

Pronger was on the ice for all three of Edmonton's even-strength goals and picked up two assists. He set up the first goal, just 16 seconds in, when his slap shot was deflected in by Fernando Pisani.

"Chris has made a big impact in the series," Carolina right winger Mark Recchi said. "He's out there for a lot of minutes. When you log those type of minutes, it's got to wear on you at the end. We've got to make it hard on him."

And just how do the Hurricanes intend to make it hard on Pronger?

"He's got to be tested," Recchi said. "We've got to make him skate more. The more he plays, the more we can play a part in wearing the guy down. That's what we've got to try to do."

That's easy to say, difficult to accomplish.

Pronger is clearly in peak condition. He's all pumped up about being in the finals for the first time after spending nine seasons with the St. Louis Blues, who always fell short in the playoffs no matter how well they played during the regular season.

Once the lockout was settled, St. Louis dealt Pronger to the Oilers in a cost-cutting move. Edmonton has sure taken advantage of his imposing presence - especially in the postseason, becoming the first eighth-seeded team to reach the finals under the current format.

Pronger has averaged more than 31 minutes a game in the playoffs, with a high of 47:17 during a crucial double-overtime win against Detroit in the opening round. Edmonton went on to beat the NHL's best regular-season team in six games, the biggest upset this postseason.

Now, the Oilers are trying to become only the second team in NHL history to overcome a 3-1 deficit in the finals. They'll be cheered on in Game 6 by a raucous home crowd, which has been the talk of the series with its deafening sing-alongs to both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems, not to mention its loyalty to a gritty, blue-collar team that defied all odds by making it this far.

When Edmonton lost Game 4 at Rexall Place, giving Carolina a chance to clinch the cup at home, the fans sent their team off the ice with the inspiring chant, "Let's go Oilers!" It worked.

"They have been unbelievable," Pronger said. "Whenever we've needed them, they've been at their best. We seem to feed off their energy."

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