Player battles to watch and more Stanley Cup Final notes
The anticipation is building for what everyone is expecting to be an epic battle between the Flyers' bruise dispensing defender,
That's no knock on Big Buff, who was famously described by Vancouver defender
But Pronger, a more svelte 6-6, 220, seems ideally suited for the task of minimizing Big Buff's impact. It's not so much an edge in strength as it is experience.
Think back to how easily Pronger, when he was playing for the Ducks, handled
And as hot as he's been in the playoffs, with three game-winners in the San Jose series alone, Byfuglien is hardly capable of creating offense on his own. This is a player, after all, whose career high is 36 points. If the puck isn't getting to him, he's going to have a hard time making things happen on his own.
While the Flyers may have the upper hand in that battle, the Hawks could still come out on top. After all, if Pronger's attentions are tied up by Byfuglien, that leaves two of the real drivers of Chicago's offense,
"I remember a couple of instances where [Pronger] was actually coaching players on his own team on how to defend against [the Red Wings fowards down low]," he said on a conference call with the media on Thursday. "I think it was
Granted it's a relatively small sample, but it's hard to ignore the discipline of the Flyers when analyzing their postseason success. A team that averaged 16.6 penalty minutes per game in the regular season -- second most in the league -- has cut back to just 11.9 minutes in the playoffs. That drop is even more impressive when placed in the context of a simple eyeball test: the Flyers have been as hard a team to play against as any this spring. So while they continue to exact a price from the opposition, smart positioning keeps them on the ice. That's especially impressive coming out of the Montreal series in which they were at a clear speed disadvantage.
If you like desperate hockey, keep a close eye on Chicago's
With more than $57.5 million committed in salaries to just 14 players next season, and a cap set to top out around $58 million, the Hawks will have to walk the financial plank this summer. As if filling out the empty roster spots isn't challenge enough, they also are looking at resigning RFA goalie
How to find the cap space? The most likely decision involves burying erstwhile starter
Why did I pick the Hawks to win the Cup
And while the waiver wire castoff element has added some gloss to his story, there are valid reasons why he was shuffled off to the scrap heap. Among them, his battles with inconsistency, especially maintaining his mental focus. He's on his game now, and benefitting from playing behind a group more devoted to his protection than he's ever experienced in the past. But these Hawks boast a deeper, more aggressive offense than what he's faced this spring, and since his success depends on making the first stop and relying on his blueliners to clear the debris, Chicago poses a different kind of danger. Even the slightest dip in his play would put the Flyers in a hole.
Leino has hit his stride in the postseason, and where his ability to battle for possession and find open space down low has made him the perfect fit in
"I didn't think he had it in him," a Western Conference executive told SI.com earlier this week. "He's got a lot more snarl in him than he showed in Detroit. He's been a big addition for them."