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2010 Stanley Cup Finals: Byfuglien vs. Pronger the battle to watch

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One of the biggest (literally) reasons for the Blackhawks’ success against the Canucks and the Sharks was forward/defenseman/forward Dustin Byfuglien. The large and seemingly unmovable Byfuglien has scored eight goals in the postseason, including one in each of the past five games. In the Hawks’ four-game sweep of the Sharks, he had the game-winning goal in three of the four games.

Nearly all of his goals were scoring from directly in front of the net, as the opposing team seemed helpless in keeping Byfuglien away from the crease. It didn’t help that a couple of times the Sharks and Canucks inexplicable forgot about him, yet no matter what either team tried to do he was still able to make one heck of an impact in crashing the net.

With Michael Leighton in net, riding one heck of a performance against the Canadiens and likely extremely confident, you can guarantee the Blackhawks will continue their net-crashing ways.

Only this time, the Flyers have a weapon the likes of which Byfuglien and the Blackhawks have yet to face: Chris Pronger.

There are many matchups in the Cup finals that are intriguing, but none will get as much focus or be as important to each team’s success than the battle between Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Pronger in front of the net. Byfuglien hasn’t battled a big defenseman like Pronger, yet Pronger hasn’t had to try and clear out what is essentially a skilled defenseman from directly in front of the net.

Unfortunately, Pronger may be at a disadvantage. What would have worked 10-15 years ago in the NHL won’t fly today. NBC’s Mike Milbury, speaking during a conference call today, explains:

“I wish it were in 1975 so I could really watch this matchup; because the way the rules are now, if Byfuglien goes to the front of the net, Pronger can’t touch him. He can have action when the puck’s around the crease, but if Byfuglien wants to go to the front of the net, all he has to do is stand there.

“I think it’s going to be interesting to see if Pronger can do anything against Byfuglien, because the way the rules are you can’t touch the damn guy anymore.”

Milbury has long been outspoken about the current rules prohibiting physical play, and in this case he’s dead on about how Pronger will struggle to stay out of the penalty box when Byfuglien starts to take up residence down low. You also know that the Hawks will take advantage of this matchup, in the hopes that Pronger does something stupid and suddenly the Flyers are without their best defenseman.

Knowing Pronger, there’s a good chance this will happen at some point.

The Blackhawks and Byfuglien have become masterful and causing trouble in front of the goaltender and the net, knowing exactly what to do and to say to get the opposing team off their game. Scoring goals down low, with Byfuglien let loose outside the crease, is sure to be the first way to anger the Flyers.

Pronger has shown in the past that he does know how to clear out the front of the net without playing dumb, using his frame to box out the forwards around the net and give his goaltender a clear view of the shooting lanes.

It’s going to be two of the bigger players on the ice going at one another, with one of them at a disadvantage. It’s the wily veteran, the defenseman brought in to give the Flyers this exact edge, against the hot young forward who has suddenly become the hero for the Blackhawks.