PHILADELPHIA ó He's already established himself as one of the most dominant defencemen of this or any other era, but Chris Pronger's legacy has come up three wins short.
Instead of securing a select place in NHL history by winning three Stanley Cups on three different teams in five seasons, Pronger has one ring, two heartbreaking defeats in the final and a deep burning desire to make sure the next opportunity — here and now — doesn't slip through his fingers.
"It's pretty disappointing," the 36-year-old defenceman said of coming so close to NHL immortality, only to lose Game 7 in Carolina with the Oilers and in six games to Chicago last year. "Everybody in here last year felt that we could beat Chicago, proved that we could beat them.
"But mistakes and things like that creeped up. To lose on what seemed like a pretty flukey goal... we had a couple of great chances late in the third period to win the game and a couple of chances in overtime, it just wasn't meant to be."
For some, one ring is plenty good enough. If you're Pronger, it's going to hurt like hell if it all ends with just one championship.
That's why, as a defenceman pushing 40 on a team with a relatively short window (the Flyers have nine players over 30 on the roster), he's understands that you never take next year for granted. Time is running out, that Philly needs to close the deal this season.
"For sure, this team isn't really set up for the future, it's set up for now," said Pronger. "We have a number of guys in here who aren't getting any younger and we have a lot of young guys in here who gained a lot of valuable experience in the playoffs. We have to use all that to our advantage and make sure that come April we're peaking and playing at the highest level and getting better with each game."
They've been reeling lately, never a good thing in March, and that's cause for great concern in a town that hasn't won since 1975. Pronger, who knows better than anyone what a Cup contender looks like, says this year's team has all the makings of another trip into June. But he also knows from painful experience that you never take anything for granted.
"I would say we're better from a depth standpoint," he said. "It's tough to say (you're a contender) when you've just lost four in a row, but we certainly have the make-up. It really boils down to character and heart and desire to play the game at a high level.
"If you look at our season we haven't really had any adversity or missteps, sometimes those can be a good thing. You're able to test your mettle and see what kind of character your team is going to have when your backs are against the wall. When you're punched in the face, how are you going to respond?"