The series between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Buffalo Sabres looks different than when the teams last played in Philly. It's louder. It's nastier. It's more controversial. Hell, they're writing Danny Briere/Elton John parody songs on Buffalo. Now that's nasty.
What hasn't changed: That the series is deadlocked, now at 2-2 heading into Game 5 Friday night.
Jeff Carter(notes) is likely out for Game 5, the result of a collision with Tyler Myers(notes) in which Carter's knee hit Myers' ankle (/height joke). Please recall last postseason when Carter was injured in Game 4 of the first round against the Devils, everyone thought the Flyers could be in trouble, and then he rejoined the team in the conference finals.
Chris Pronger(notes), out since March 8 with a hand injury, is a maybe for Game 5. He could return in a limited role, but the weakness in his hand might prevent him from being an effective player on the power play, where the Flyers (2 for 21 in the series) really miss him.
Make no mistake: Pronger is not going to be firing rockets from the blue line if he returns at any point in this series with the Sabres. His low powered shots on net this week have looked more like muffins than missiles. However, Pronger can now make a strong enough first outlet pass out of the Flyers' zone. And while he has not been able to test how his fractured right hand will react with physical contact from opponents, especially opponents that know it's the right hand and not the left, Pronger is one of the savviest skaters in the NHL.
He knows exactly when to push an injury. And with his team now tied, Friday night's Game 5 may be the first time to do that since undergoing surgery on March 15 for an injury that happened on Feb. 26 against the Islanders.
With the series taking on a nasty, physical tone, would there be a better time for a little bit of Pronger?
(UPDATE: For what it's worth, Tim Panaccio of CSN Philly, a well-connected guy, is reporting Pronger won't play in Game 5.)
If the war of words had a first shot, it may have gone to Mike Richards(notes) of the Flyers, who claimed the Sabres were getting "away with murder" during Game 4. This prompted Sabres goalie Ryan Miller(notes) to say, via Comcast SportsNet:
"Murder, huh? He's just trying to start spinning something," Miller said. "He's a smart guy. He's been around a while. He's been through a lot of these battles. He obviously knows some of the attention needs to be drawn to something.
"I think he's just trying to draw attention away from himself. That elbow is something we're trying to stay away from, and he threw it, not matter who's coming at him. I know it's Patty Kaleta and he's got a reputation, but Patty hadn't hit him yet. So we don't even know what Patty was going to do. He got an elbow in the face. I think it's a big smokescreen. Mike's trying to throw everybody off his tail."
And Lindy Ruff famously said his piece on WGR on Thursday morning:
"I just feel that they're doing a lot of whining," Ruff said. "They're really doing a lot of whining. I didn't hear any whining when they had 10 power plays in Philly and I don't hear any whining when the power plays in the first game were lopsided. But all of a sudden there's all this whining about we're getting away with murder? That's a bunch of crap. That's for the media, that's for the officials to read, that's for 'Here, let's get the next call.' That's a bunch of crap. Let's just play.
"We're just playing," Ruff said. "There hasn't been one word about officiating out of us. If they want to cry about the officiating or whine about different calls, go ahead. Go ahead."
Are the Sabres in the Flyers' heads? A little. Kaleta did the kind of pest-work you'd usually expect from someone on orange and black — which is less a comment on legality and more about his ability to change the tone of the game. From Ryan Bright:
Like Barnaby did with the Sabres in the mid-to-late '90's, Kaleta is playing the villain perfectly in the first-round series against the Flyers.
"We have a game to win tomorrow and that's what it's about."
The physical play has been uneven: The Sabres are the aggressor, and Mike Richards told the Inquirer that the Flyers have to match that against Buffalo's best:
"We plan to be physical as usual," Richards said. "I think we got away from hitting the players we need to key on and not worry about the other players as much. They've got some skilled players who can make plays, and if we allow them to go off the ice without being hit, they're obviously going to create a lot. Players like [Tim] Connolly and [Thomas] Vanek, and Myers, we have to try to get a body on them as much as possible to slow them down."
"There's some things happen after whistle, like you said, I don't usually get mad, but once things get out of control and there's hitting behind, hitting to the hands, hitting after the whistle to your calves. Those are things I can't take it and sometimes you get emotional about it. But that's again yesterday, and I'm focused on tomorrow."
Friday is Game 5. It's a critical one for the Flyers, who need to break through against Ryan Miller, as the Buffalo goalie was locked-in during Game 4. It's a critical one for the Sabres, as they've got the momentum and are dominating the conversation right now.
The Flyers have to steal it back.
And really, if you need a thief, would there be a better time for a little bit of Pronger?