Chris Pronger still a force in postseason

June, 10, 2010

PHILADELPHIA -- After the Carolina Hurricanes had captured their first Stanley Cup four years ago, there was a great hue and cry that Chris Pronger hadn't been awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in a losing cause for the Edmonton Oilers.

Four Cup finals later, there remains some debate about whether Pronger should have been so honored in another losing cause.

The point is moot really, but the fact there's debate at all illustrates just how dominant a player the big defenseman is.

Had he not gone minus-5 in Game 5 and had he not taken a couple of early penalties in Game 6, one of which led to Chicago's first goal, Pronger might well have been named playoff MVP.

Still, his play this spring reinforces Pronger's status as one of the most dominant defensemen of his generation and a sure-fire Hall of Famer when his career comes to a close.

Not that anyone is suggesting Pronger, 35, is anywhere near the end of the line. In fact, having led all players in average ice time this spring, spending almost half of every game on the ice, Pronger's play justifies the risk taken by GM Paul Holmgren almost a year ago to acquire the big defenseman from Anaheim.

Since the lockout, Pronger has turned out to be the ultimate hired gun. Traded from St. Louis to Edmonton after the lockout, Pronger led the eighth-seeded Oilers to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals in 2006. A year later, he was hoisting the Cup as a member of the Anaheim Ducks.

Last June, Holmgren gave up an attractive package of draft picks and prospects to bring Pronger to Philadelphia in the hopes he might be the missing piece for a Flyers team that fancied itself as a Cup contender.

Although the Flyers endured an up-and-down regular season that saw coach John Stevens fired and replaced by Peter Laviolette, they seemed to grow stronger as the playoffs went along. Much of that can be traced to Pronger's presence on the ice and in the locker room. Teammates talked of his calm demeanor even as the team fell behind 3-0 against Boston in the second round.

As the Cup finals began, he got under the skin of the Blackhawks, taking pucks at the end of games and antagonizing their players with his physical play. Off the ice, he regularly sparred with journalists, bringing a welcome dose of levity to the proceedings. The humor belies a deep desire to win.

After Game 6, there were no jokes from Pronger, nothing but disappointment at having fallen short.

"I think we all felt very good going into the overtime. Unfortunately, somebody's got to lose," he said. "I don't think it'll set in for awhile. It's obviously disappointing and not the way we would have liked to see the season end, especially here at home. But you know what, we'll be feeling it for awhile, that's for sure."

Scott Burnside

ESPN Senior Writer




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