After a one week layoff, the 2006 Stanley Cup Playoffs resumed at HP Pavilion Sunday night. And with it returned the familiar yet frenzied playoff atmosphere of 17,496 playoff crazy Sharks fans.
Also returning was that familiar foe Sharks fans love to hate. Returning with the Edmonton Oilers was standout defenseman Chris Pronger, a player Sharks fans have despised for many years.
That love-hate relationship between Pronger and Sharks faithful was quickly rekindled Sunday night as Sharks fans booed the former League MVP as he took to the ice during warm-ups. Fans arrived early to send the message that despite that he now plays for Edmonton, the feelings toward Pronger remain the same.
“The minute they introduce him (Pronger) we will start booing. Every time he touches the puck we will boo him. Every time he gets involved in the play, we will boo him,” said long time Sharks season ticket holder Stu Ganz of Sunnyvale. “We will do everything we can to get to him and eventually he will self destruct.”
This second round series marks the fourth playoff series in the last six seasons that Pronger has faced the San Jose Sharks. The first three series came when Pronger was a member of the St. Louis Blues, a team he found tremendous success with early in his career. With the St. Louis Blues, Pronger faced the Sharks three times in the playoffs, most recently in 2004 when the Sharks knocked off Pronger and the Blues in a physical five game series that saw the Sharks defeat the Blues four games to one. That series turned out to be Pronger’s last in a Blues uniform.
In order for Edmonton to continue to have success on the ice in round two against the Sharks, the Oilers relied on Pronger to bring the same leadership and intensity into the second round’s opening game against the Sharks as he did in round one vs. Detroit. In Edmonton's six-game upset of the Western Conference’s top-seeded team, Pronger established himself as a force to be reckoned with. His 33 minutes, 34 seconds of ice time was tops among all players in round 1. His average of 27:59 during the regular season was fourth highest in the league. He also contributed two goals and five assists against Detroit, more than any other defenseman.
Perhaps more importantly, round one saw a more disciplined Pronger stay out of the penalty box. In the six-game series, he accumulated a mere four minutes in penalties. His regular-season average of less than one two-minute minor every two games was a career low.
Although Pronger maintained his ice time (logging a team-high 30:07 on 32 shifts), it was the Sharks ability to keep him off the official scoring sheet while taking advantage of opportunities while Pronger was on the bench.
And that’s exactly what Sharks captain Patrick Marleau
did, continuing his torrid playoff goal scoring pace while Pronger was on the bench. Marleau tallied the first goal for the Sharks and his eighth of the playoffs at 7:42 of the first period. Marleau received a perfect pass from rookie Steve Bernier who was stationed behind the net. Marleau was able to fire the puck past Edmonton goaltender Dwayne Roloson, to tie the game at one midway through the first period.
Marleau added an assist later in the second period, again with Pronger on the bench. The Sharks captain began the play by forcing a hit behind the net and stripping the Oilers defenseman of the puck. Marleau then found Milan Michalek for two in close shots. When the puck slid toward the corner, Marleau was there again, this time feeding Christian Ehrhoff at the point. Ehrhoff’s one-timer found the corner of the net for his first career playoff goal and which gave the Sharks a 2-1 lead and ultimately served as the game winner.
“He’s (Pronger) a real good player. You’ve got to pick your spots against him. He has such a long stick. He’s very lengthy. You just kind of have to stay away from him,” said Sharks center Joe Thornton
. “We know that he (Pronger) has a big shot and we had to take that away,” added Thornton.
As the series moves forward to game two tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at HP Pavilion, the Sharks will look to capitalize on what many thought could potentially be a disadvantage in the series: games on consecutive nights. With Pronger logging more than thirty minutes in game one, the Sharks will try to make Pronger work harder in game two in hopes that a fatigued Pronger might be more susceptible to making mistakes or taking penalties.
Should Pronger wind up in the penalty box in game two, there will be 17,496 Sharks fans on top of the action to let him know about it.