Chatty Pronger holds court with media
Whatever. The Flyers defenseman is never at a loss for words and was in fine form Sunday, sparring with the media during an off-day news conference, mostly in jest – but sometimes, not.
The Pronger chronicles
On shutting down Chicago’s top line of Jonathan Toews(notes), Patrick Kane(notes) and Dustin Byfuglien(notes): “I think we did a good job of denying them time and space. If they don’t have the puck, they can’t score.”
On his much-anticipated matchup against Byfuglien: “There was a lot of talk, you guys [media] had a lot to say about him, so I guess we needed to calm that down real quick … That may have been blown out of proportion.”
Pronger’s secret? Good positioning, and some not-so-gentle cross-checks (all legal-like, of course) to Byfuglien’s back: “[You have to] deny him easy access to the front of the net. I think teams [presumably Vancouver and San Jose, against whom Byfuglien tallied eight goals in his previous eight games] allowed him to stand there, but you’ve got to force a guy like that to work. He’s a big guy, but he’s got to exert some energy and work to get into position and that tires guys out that aren’t used to it. He’s got to pay a price … whatever that may be.”
Sounds like there’s more to come in this immoveable force vs. unstoppable object battle. Which is great news for fans and bad news Byfuglien’s kidneys.
On Chicago being tagged as the favorite: “By who, you guys [media]? This crew in here? All that matters is what we think in that locker room and that’s it. I don’t really buy into the favorites and underdogs.”
On which goalie, Leighton or Brian Boucher(notes), Laviolette will start in Game 2: “I don’t think he’s made up his mind, so it would probably be premature for me to speculate or say anything on the matter … And I don’t think I will because I don’t like the way you’ve framed your question. I don’t guess. I. Don’t. Guess.”
On playing 42 shifts for a total of 32 minutes, 21 seconds of ice time in Game 1, Pronger first answered deadpan style, then got serious:
Deadpan: “It’s exhausting, I don’t know, I couldn’t get up this morning … I don’t even know how I’m sitting here, I almost fell asleep.”
Serious: “It is what it is. It’s that time of year and you do what you can to help your team win, whether it’s playing that many minutes or whatever is asked of you, you do. But I feel good and I’m ready to go tomorrow.”
Pronger finished the game with two assists and a plus-2 rating; most impressively, he was only on the ice for one goal against in a contest that saw Philadelphia scored upon six times.
On Philadelphia’s physical play and the fact the Flyers weren’t sent to the penalty box once: “Can we play more physically? Absolutely. I don’t think we need to take penalties in doing so. I think we got off-track by not getting the puck in deep and being physical in that respect. If we take a couple penalties, so be it, I don’t think we’re worried with taking penalties, I think we just got off-track and started playing their game, a little too much run-and-gun and fed into their hand a little bit.”
On the ice conditions: “It’s pretty hard to be optimal in June. While it is the Windy City, we can’t open up the doors and let that cold wind blow in. I don’t think it’s any worse than what it was in Anaheim [Pronger won a Cup with the Ducks in 2007] or Carolina [Pronger, with Edmonton at the time, lost in the Finals to the Hurricanes in 2006], but as you progress further in the playoffs, the ice usually gets a little bit softer. It’s tough to keep it that cold. We could make the ice hard, but it’d be about 4 degrees [Fahrenheit] in the building and I don’t think the fans would appreciate that very much, wearing parkas in June.”
All in all, Pronger’s 10 minutes at the podium were classic Chris. He was feisty and funny, insightful and combative. It’s easy to see why he’s a player whom teammates look to for leadership – and why he can frustrate opponents so much.
The crease question
Leighton was pulled after surrendering five goals on 20 shots in Game 1, instantly creating a who-starts-Game-2 debate as Brian Boucher performed capably in relief (stopping 11 of 12 shots in 24 minutes of work, but getting caught out of position on Tomas Kopecky’s(notes) game-winner and ultimately taking the loss). Leighton didn’t say much on Sunday, but he was candid when rating his less-than performance.
“I didn’t let any really bad goals in … But I didn’t make some big saves. That’s pretty much what it came down to. Every good scoring chance they had, they scored. And a couple of them were good shots. There’s one or two that I was mad at myself for what I did. But that’s the way it goes. That’s the game of hockey.”
Richards was quick to support Leighton, as you’d expect from a team captain, while Laviolette was tight-lipped, as you’d expect from a coach.
Richards, on Leighton being pulled: “I think it’s more a situation where you’re trying to rally everyone around a guy who’s played his heart out for us, a guy who’s been put in a tough situation and all he’s done is strive for us and play well and battle for us. And to see him get pulled is just a message that we have to start helping out and not leave him out to dry.”
Laviolette: “Let me open this press conference by saying that we will keep everything internally in regards to lineups, lineup changes, lines, goaltenders, anything that’s internal we’ll probably keep it internal. But thank you for asking.”
At the end of his turn at the mic, Laviolette finished with what can only be described as a fearless boast: “Whoever gets the start tomorrow night is really going to shine.”
Now there’s a coach who’s been to the Finals before – Laviolette was behind Carolina’s bench when they beat Pronger’s Oilers in ’06. In fact, Laviolette and Pronger are the only Flyers who’ve been to the Cup Finals.
Briere, meanwhile, took the oft-uttered line of, “I don’t care who starts, it doesn’t matter.” But you can get away with that when you put up a goal and four points in Game 1.
“To us, it doesn’t matter. Both guys have played well in the playoffs, I think they’ve got six wins apiece. The one thing is, if there are players who should take the blame for last night, it’s certainly not our goaltending. The chances we gave [Chicago], the shots we gave them, from dangerous areas … We haven’t done that too many times in the playoffs.”
Despite the unwelcome defensive breakdowns, Briere feels the Flyers proved something in Game 1.
“Coming into this series, everyone was talking about how good the Blackhawks were and I haven’t heard anyone giving us a chance to win this series. What I like is that [Saturday] night we proved we belonged with them, maybe not to all the hockey experts, but in our room we believe we can play with them, we can stretch this series and we can definitely come back.”