Tuesday, May 25, 2010
By Brett Ballantini
CHICAGO - A looming shadow is cast over the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup aspirations, running about 66, 220, with a number of battle scars and a scowl you can see, on a bright, sunny day like Monday, from Philadelphia.
Not to oversimplify the strategy Chicago brings to the ice on Saturday in Game 1 vs. the Flyers, but neutralizing massive defenseman Chris Pronger is central to whatever it is. For sure, the veteran of 16 seasons has captured the Blackhawks attention.
Hes a big guy, Chicago center Dave Bolland said.
Hes as good a player as there is back there, said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who coached Pronger with the St. Louis Blues. Pronger enjoyed career-high and league-leading ratings under Coach Q in 1997-98 (plus-47) and 1999-00 (plus-52).
Pronger only registered a plus-22 this season, leading Philadelphia at age 35. He also scored 55 points on 10 goals and 45 assists and didnt miss a single game, one of just five Flyers to accomplish that feat. And the burly giant wasnt making token appearances in games, eitherhis 25:56 of average ice time led the Flyers as well.
Hes a workhorse, Blackhawks alternacap Duncan Keith said. Hes out there most of the game.
Yeah, hes a big guy, Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane said. He plays a lot of minutes, but it doesnt look like hes aged too much. Still we have to try to wear him down as much as possible.
Wear him down? Its tiring merely reading Prongers accolades.
To Bolland at least, Prongers size and superlatives come second to his experience in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Hes one of a few guys they have who have been through the Finals, Bolland said. I remember watching him dominate when the Anaheim Ducks won it.
Despite Prongers multi-tiered value to Philadelphias defense, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette may have little choice than to match his defensive ace on net, up against the Blackhawks own brawny man, Dustin Byfuglien, who has basically gone ham on both the Vancouver Canucks and San Jose Sharks in prior series.
Neither of those teams had a skater who could measure up against Big Buff, whose confidence is growing by the day and who has tallied a team playoff-high eight goals in just his last eight playoff games.
When it was suggested that Laviolette may choose to move Byfuglien using a skilled but smaller, quicker defender (say the 510, 194 Kimmo Timonen) Kane burst out laughing, dismissing the idea that you can attack Byfuglien at the net with anyone but your biggest player.
Pronger and Buff will be seeing a lot of each other in the series. Buff is just big and strong and he can just stand there at the net all day. No ones had an answer for him yet, and thats the way we want it.
Chicago didnt exactly prove it had solved Pronger, either, at least not in the one game the two clubs played during the 2009-10 season. It was the behemoth of the blue line who slipped behind Brent Seabrook and took a backdoor pass to score with just a few seconds left in the game, turning Philadelphia from likely desperation overtime team to look-ma buzzer-beater winners faster than you can say six-six and gulp.
There arent many obvious obstacles the Blackhawks will have to scale in Philadelphia as they begin to gameplan against the Flyers. But the one presented in Pronger is simply too big to ignore.
Brett Ballantini isCSNChicago.com's Blackhawks Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnikon Twitter for up-to-the-minute Hawksinformation.