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Pronger getting the better of Byfuglien in front

by Brian Compton
PHILADELPHIA -- Three rounds into this heavyweight bout featuring Chris Pronger and Chicago Blackhawks forward Dustin Byfuglien, the latter is still searching for that knockout punch.
The Philadelphia Flyers defenseman has done a masterful job of keeping Byfuglien in check -- the 6-foot-4, 257-pounder has yet to score and has been held to just three shots on goal.
Granted, the Blackhawks still hold a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup Final, which resumes with Game 4 at the Wachovia Center on Friday night. But the Blackhawks -- Byfuglien in particular -- need to find an advantage against Pronger, who is averaging more than 29 minutes of ice time per game this postseason.
"It's an ongoing battle," Byfuglien said after the Blackhawks held a team meeting at the Wachovia Center on Thursday afternoon. "I'm enjoying it. It's something I can learn off, too."
Both Byfuglien and the Blackhawks anxiously await the moment when No. 33 finally figures out a way to beat Pronger during what has been some tremendous action in front of the net. Through the first three games, though, it's Pronger who has been winning those battles.
"I think you've just got to continue to deny the easy access to the front of the net and make him work for every inch out there," said Pronger, one of the favorites to win the Conn Smythe Trophy should Philadelphia rally to win this series.
Asked whether he believes he's making Byfuglien frustrated, Pronger simply responded, "I don't know. You can ask him."
Byfuglien insists that's not the case. In fact, he believes it's only a matter of time before he starts finding the back of the net.
"It's just the way things are going," Byfuglien said. "We're getting chances. You've got to keep going and eventually you've just got to get your chance and they're going to go in. We know what we have to do."
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville agreed. He's confident that as long as Byfuglien continues to go toe-to-toe with the 6-foot-6 Pronger that the momentum can swing in the other direction.
"Buff is not an easy guy to play against as well," Quenneville said. "I think one thing about Prongs, he's played in some big games.  I think that it's a good challenge for Buff to make sure you make it as tough and as rough as you can on Prongs -- make it hard minutes on him. I still think he's battling in the right area. I know he gets rewarded when he gets there. I think it don't take much of a loose puck for him to finish, and haven't found it yet, but certainly he's going to get a chance as we go along here." 
The intensity of this intriguing battle should only become more heated as the series progresses, but the war of words probably will not. That's because neither side seems too interested in getting involved in one -- not when Lord Stanley is on the line.
"There really isn't too much said," Byfuglien said. "I'm not a big talker out there. I'm just going to go out there and do my job and work."
Pronger seems to be taking the same approach. While the Blackhawks recognize just how effective the 2000 Hart and Norris Trophy winner has been thus far in this series, they're weren't about to spend their entire Thursday praising him.
"We'll give him credit, we'll give their players credit for playing well defensively against some of our top players, but it's always been about us and how we can play better," captain Jonathan Toews said. "We've played against some tough, defensive players in previous series. It's all about overcoming that adversity, overcoming the obstacles that are in front of you and just finding a way."
One obstacle has been remaining level-headed against Pronger, who is a master at suckering the opposition into taking penalties. The Flyers went 2-for-3 on the power play in Game 3.
"He's smart," Byfuglien said. "He's definitely one of the better guys at it. That's something I've been noticing. They've kind of let it go a little bit more. It gets a little tough at times … we know he gets away with things and you get called, but that's the way it is. There's not much you can do about it."   
According to Toews, though, Blackhawks fans need not worry. The captain insisted this showdown has not and will not turn into anything that could hinder Byfuglien or the rest of the club psychologically.
"I don't know how we would be getting into our heads … whether it's vocally or whatnot," Toews said. "He's not talking a lot out there, he's playing. He's doing his job the way he knows he can do it. He's just one player. I don't think it's that big of a deal."

Told that some Flyers said Pronger was getting inside his head, Byfuglien replied: "When he gets inside my head you'll know about it. It's pretty easy (to see)."
Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

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