Villainous Pronger gives Flyers swagger

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:15 PM ET

PHILADELPHIA -- Thick ice packs were wrapped tightly around both his knees, his healing right hand and, well, to be honest, who knows where else?

Indeed, as he sat at the podium in front of the press, Chris Pronger looked as if he had just survived a train wreck, not a playoff hockey game.

Truth be told: Had the favoured Philadelphia Flyers lost their first-round series to the underdog Buffalo Sabres, a "train wreck" is exactly how those orange-clad Philly Phanatics in the City of Brotherly Loathe would have regarded the Flyers season.

Chris Pronger was not about to let that happen.

He wasn't the most dominant player in Game 7 Tuesday night, a convincing 5-2 victory over the Sabres that allowed the Flyers to squeeze past Buffalo into the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Then again, he didn't have to be.

Never does.

There is a presence about Chris Pronger that cannot be measured by goals and assists and points. He is about intangibles, about intimidation, about casting a huge 6-foot-5 shadow over the opposition even when he is sitting on the bench.

Most importantly, he is about providing a sense of swagger and cockiness that is infectious to his teammates, allowing the Flyers to fear no opponent, no deficit, no obstacle.

"It's nice to have his presence in the room," goalie Brian Boucher said. "He's a leader. Guys respect him in this room."

Pronger fractured his right hand on Feb. 26 and eventually underwent surgery to repair the damage. In the weeks that followed, his rehab turned into a soap opera, one that became even more of a drama with the arrival of the post-season.

Will he play? If so, when? Did he break the hand a second time? It seemed Pronger was receiving as much ink as the Royal Wedding, even though he was not even playing.

Each time he would step on to the ice to practice, every pass, every shot, every stickhandling manoeuvre was monitored. If he couldn't raise the puck, observers asked, then how would he be able to compete in the series?

But compete he would.

The return came in Game 6, when he played just four minutes 33 seconds, all of it on the power play.

No matter. The Flyers won in dramatic comeback fashion, 5-4.

"To have him out there just for five minutes and have him on bench and have him chirping out there, it's good," Boucher said.

In Game 7, Pronger chewed up more ice time, playing more than 17 minutes and getting an assist on the power play in the Flyers' 5-2 victory.

Two games played. Two victories.

Coincidence? We think not. And neither do his teammates.

"He's good at holding on to the puck and making the right play, the right decision, so he definitely helped us settle down in Games 6 and 7," forward Daniel Briere said.

Pronger has been here before. Battled-scarred warriors deal with bumps and bruises. There was pain after Game 7, sure, but "when isn't there?"

"I actually felt really good out there," Pronger said. "That's what the workout room is for."

As the Flyers move deeper into the post-season, Pronger's value will increase dramatically. With each passing series, as teams close in on the Stanley Cup, room on the ice shrivels up. And no one takes away an opponent's time and space better than Chris Pronger.

Of course, that's not the only way he can drive an opponent bonkers.

Remember a year ago in the Stanley Cup final when he scooped up the game pucks at the final horn of Games 1 and 2, leaving the Chicago Blackhawks seething? That's Pronger for you, a guy who loves playing the role of the villain.

Any way you look at it, Pronger and his never-say-die outlook makes the Flyers that much more dangerous, not to mention his contributions on the ice as well.

Asked what makes this Flyers team so resilient, Pronger replied: "It boils down to the heart and character in this room."

And no one has more of those characteristics than Chris Pronger.


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