Mind games? Trash-talking? You bet

June, 1, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- A day after Chris Pronger and Ben Eager got into it over picking up the puck at the end of Game 2, the psychological sideshow of these Stanley Cup finals went up another notch Tuesday.

Preparing for a must-win situation in Game 3 on Wednesday night in Philadelphia as his Flyers trail the Hawks 2-0 in the series, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said he wants his team to try to exploit Chicago rookie netminder Antti Niemi and make him feel the pressure.

"We've got to put more pressure on their goaltender. He's a rookie goaltender playing in the Stanley Cup finals," Laviolette said Tuesday. "We have to get on the board here tomorrow night and put a little bit of doubt there.

"Our team is capable of scoring a lot of goals, putting a lot of pressure on him. It's a tough position, goaltending. He's representing a city that hasn't won a Cup in 50 years. We have to give him a crack of doubt. We can do that tomorrow night."

In other words, "In case you haven't noticed kid, you're in over your head and maybe it's time you stopped channeling Patrick Roy circa 1986."

The only problem is that (A) we're not sure Laviolette's comments will translate into Finnish; and (B) Niemi appears clueless as to just how good he might be playing regardless of whether it was expected of him or not.

Chicago coach Joel Quenneville wouldn't be drawn into a discussion about the pressure of ending a Cup drought dating back to 1961, the longest in the NHL, but he did say he doesn't think Niemi worries about stuff too much.

"One thing about Antti, you have to appreciate the way he approaches games," Quenneville said. "The way he moves in games and following shots, his demeanor is the way you'd like it to be in any type of situation. But goaltenders are sometimes a little more higher-strung. Antti is as laid-back as I've ever met or seen, and I think his disposition enables him just to move on to the next situation and the next challenge and the next puck, and I think that makes him effective. He's a student of the game as well, so he just seems to move on seamlessly and look for the next challenge."

And as for Puckgate ...

The incident between Eager and Pronger, who not only ended up with the puck at the end of Game 2 but also fired a towel at the Chicago tough guy, was once again a major topic of discussion (as only something as frivolous as this can be during an off day in the Cup finals).

"I found out about it today. I read about it. I think it's kind of comical," Laviolette said. "If Chris Pronger wants the puck, then he can have it as far as I'm concerned. I don't have any problems with that. I don't know what the big deal is. We didn't talk about it. That did not come up. We did not talk about who is going to steal the puck in Game 3."

The coach was then asked if Pronger taking the puck would somehow provide extra incentive for Chicago.

"The Hawks? What added incentive do they have now? They're mad? They're angry? It's the playoffs," Laviolette said. "We're going to show up. We're going to compete like hell tomorrow night, I promise you that. I don't know what else they're going to do because we stole their puck. I think it's funny, just like you guys are laughing right now, I think it's kind of comical. Prongs wants the puck, take it."

Flyers forward Daniel Briere said it's not unusual for Pronger or the Flyers to annoy people, so maybe that's a good thing.

"He seems comfortable, seems in his element right now. And you know what, he's been there before, so I'm sure there's a method," Briere said. "He seems to be disturbing a lot of people, and we're a team that disturbs a lot of people. I guess he fits right in."

Captain Mike Richards clearly didn't believe there was a problem with the tug of war over the puck.

"I don't have a problem with it. If [Pronger] wants to grab the puck, let him have the puck. You can tell him not to take it if you want," Richards said.

The Blackhawks felt the same way when they arrived in town on Tuesday. Eager, who scored the game winner in Game 2, wouldn't even say whether he kept the towel Pronger shot in his direction.

"I'm not too worried about what happened last night after the game," he said. "You know, we're just going to leave that on the ice and worry about tomorrow."

As for the veteran defenseman, Pronger did not address the puck issue directly, but was asked about enjoying the moment in the finals.

"There is an awful lot of you guys and it's an awful lot of questions. Some of them can be monotonous," Pronger said. "You know what, you have to enjoy the moment. It's not every day you have the opportunity to be here at the Stanley Cup finals. You have to relish it."

Back in the day

If there is a more over-used question than what kind of impact the crowd will have on a visiting team, we'd like to know what it is. It was, of course, asked again multiple times Tuesday as the Flyers try to duplicate Chicago's success in the noisy United Center.

Quenneville used to play in the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, where more than one player reportedly came down with the "Philly Flu" and couldn't suit up against the rough-and-tumble Flyers of the 1970s.

"Well, I used to play in here when it was no fun back in the day. Whether it was Toronto or Colorado or whatever the teams I was on, [Philadelphia] had tough teams," Quenneville recalled. "It was one of those nights you knew you could be in for a long night, but that's part of the game.

"I would say that there were some nights -- I started in '78 -- it was a tough building. They had a lot of guys that some nights, depending on the score, it would get ugly. But back in the day, I mean, there were a lot of nights where there were long nights. When I say long nights, there could have been five-on-fives or bench-clearing brawls, but that's a thing of the past."



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