Pronger's nightmare

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:40 AM ET

Nobody wants to bend, fold and mutilate the Detroit Red Wings in a Stanley Cup playoff series more than Christopher R. Pronger.

This is the 10th consecutive season he's made it into the playoffs. Half of them have involved series against the Detroit Red Wings.

He's never won one.

When you're a player of Chris Pronger's stature, you need to have Stanley Cup finals and Stanley Cup championships on your resume to be complete. The Red Wings have had a whole lot to do with why he doesn't.

"I've had success everywhere else but in the playoffs,'' said Pronger.

He came closest on his first try.

"Mac and Charlie were on that team,'' he said of current coaches Craig MacTavish and Charlie Huddy with the 1995-96 St. Louis Blues.

"Detroit won in Game 7 in double overtime. That was my first taste of the playoffs. Losing in Game 7 in double overtime.''

Steve Yzerman scored the series winner.

A year later the Red Wings won four games to two. It was a six-game series in 1998 and a five-game series in 2002. Three of those four years the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup.

"They always found a way to win,'' he said.

Once again, Pronger goes into a playoff series against Detroit as an underdog.

If there's to be an upset, like the four-game sweep of the Red Wings in the first round by Anaheim in 2003, the six-foot-six defenceman is going to have to lead it.

"I'd say this. Without Chris Pronger on our team we would be so far from any playoff run,'' said coach Craig MacTavish of the player he'll probably not dress tonight in the final regular-season game against Colorado.

ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE

"In anybody's estimation, he's been absolutely incredible down the stretch for us. Great players have a way of stepping up their games in critical situations. He stepped up.

''He played up to another level. He showed us another gear to get into the playoffs. Obviously we'll be needing every aspect and every element of what he does for 30 minutes a game.''

It seems strange to be looking to a guy who has done nothing but lose to Detroit to lead them to victory against the Red Wings.

But Pronger, despite the successes those losses to Detroit prevented him from experiencing, has the experience.

His 85 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience beats Matt Greene (0), Brad Winchester (0), Marc-Antoine Pouliot (0), Raffi Torres (0), Jarret Stoll (0), Ty Conklin (0), Jussi Markkanen (0), Marc-Andre Bergeron (1), Jaroslav Spacek (4), Ales Hemsky (6), Fernando Pisani (6), Steve Staios (9), Shawn Horcoff (11), Igor Ulanov (11) Dick Tarnstrom (14) and Dwayne Roloson (15) ... combined.

"We have a lot of guys going into the unknown,'' said Pronger. "Sometimes less experience can be a good thing. Sometimes it means giving teams too much respect.''

Most of the Oilers' playoff experience is on the resumes of Pronger, Mike Peca (69), Todd Harvey (58) and Ryan Smyth (44).

The Red Wings have guys like Chris Chelios with 222, Yzerman with 192, Nicklas Lidstrom with 168, Brendan Shanahan with 151 and Kris Draper with 148.

The last time the Oilers went into a playoff series like this was their second year in the NHL against the veteran-laden Montreal Canadiens.

The Oilers had 162 games of experience and swept the series 3-0.

"I won't say I haven't thought about it,'' said MacTavish.

"It would be nice to have the same result.''

MacTavish was an Oiler the two times Edmonton previously played Detroit in a playoff series - 4-1 on both occasions en route to their third and fourth Stanley Cups.

"Detroit never understood, never knew, how close they were,'' he said.

"They were close, but they never believed it.''

You have to believe you can beat a team like the Red Wings if you're going to beat them. Building that belief is what this week is all about before the series starts in Detroit.

YA GOTTA BELIEVE

Pronger thinks his new team - which managed to accumulate five points of the eight available against the Red Wings this year and take the league's top team to OT in three of their four games - believes they can pull off an upset.

And he doesn't believe he's alone in believing. He believes a significant number of his teammates believe.

"I think we do,'' he said.

That wasn't usually true in St. Loo.


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