For Chris Pronger, the futility played out like a horror flick in the Blackhawks' 7-4 victory over the Flyers in Game 5. After Chicago pulled to within one win of its first Stanley Cup since 1961, Pronger was left to explain a game in which he was on the ice for six opposition goals, including one on the power play, and in the penalty box for a seventh. For one rare night, the solid-skating bruiser and worthy Conn Smythe candidate morphed into Bambi.
To make matters worse for Philadelphia, Dustin Byfuglien, the power forward often matched against Pronger in the series, finally got the better of the All-Star defenseman. For four nights, Pronger had out-battled and outsmarted Byfuglien in virtually every phase of the game. That changed on Sunday night. Byfuglien scored twice and added two assists, equaling his career-high for points in a game.
When asked about Byfuglien's performance, the dry and quick-witted Pronger, who entered the game plus-nine for the playoffs, simply said, "I guess he's well-rested."
When a reporter responded by asking, "Meaning he hadn't done much?" Pronger again stared out at his inquisitor and repeated, "I guess he's well-rested."
The 'Hawks rebounded strongly from their two losses in Philadelphia, mixing their line combinations, skating with verve in front of their home crowd, jumping to a 3-0 lead after the first period and starting Pronger on his way to a nightmare evening. Twelve minutes into the game, 'Hawks forward Kris Versteeg sent a pass that deflected off Pronger before reaching Brent Seabrook, who was cutting into the slot. Pronger also deflected Seabrook's shot in before it zipped past goalie Michael Leighton.
The Flyers' goalie had little help from his teammates in the first period, but he goofed up the second goal, which Dave Bolland banked off his right skate three minutes later from a bad angle.
With two minutes left in the period, Versteeg led the Hawks' rush into the zone, cutting from left to center across the middle. Pronger backed off to pick up the trailer who didn't arrive and left himself on no-man's ice. His defense partner, Matt Carle, didn't get over quick enough to cover for him and Versteeg snapped a shot past Leighton. The goalie, who was pulled in Chicago's 6-5 victory in Game 1, was gone again, banished to the bench between periods in favor of Brian Boucher.
Leighton later acknowledged that he had taken a practice shot in the knee during warmups, though he wouldn't say which knee. Still, he insisted that the knock didn't affect his play and wouldn't be a factor looking ahead. "It was a little sore, but none of my movement was affected," he said. "It was fine."
Asked later about Leighton's play, Pronger said he knew nothing of his goalie's ailment. Asked then if he, himself, was physically up to par, given his poor outing, Pronger answered, "I'm day-to-day with hurt feelings."
For the record, he also got dumped on the check of the night from Byfuglien seven minutes into the second period.
With Boucher in the game, the Flyers showed early signs of life as Scott Hartnell scored on the doorstep 32 seconds into the period. The Hawks had not yet mustered a shot on goal when they scored again at 3:13. Andrew Ladd's shot was blocked by Pronger, but as he tried to grab the 'Hawks forward, he allowed Ladd to follow up and tap a pass to Patrick Kane who knocked it into the net.
The teams traded tallies to keep the theme of a high-scoring series that has so far produced 40 goals, the most through five games of any final since the Islanders topped the Minnesota North Stars in five back in 1981. Kimmo Timonen, James Van Riemsdyk and Simon Gagne scored for Philadelphia. With the Flyers pressing, the 'Hawks converted a pair of three-on-twos; one by Byfuglien and another by Patrick Sharp. Byfuglien's empty-netter with 2:05 to play ended the scoring and capped off a career night.
"I think he got rid of us and started performing," Kane said. "That's all he needed. He was a force. He had some big hits. The one on Pronger, I think everyone remembers, where he threw him into the boards. Great game overall by him. It's good to see."
Kane also acknowledged that it was equally vital to have success against Pronger, whose monstrous presence has thwarted Chicago for much of the finals. "I think we've been looking for that throughout the whole series," he said. With him on the ice, he's a big guy, but we feel we can get around him and make some good plays. He plays a lot of minutes. I don't know if we can get him tired out there and make him make mistakes. Obviously he was on the ice for a lot of goals. You have to be aware he's probably going to bounce back with a better effort. If we play like we did against him tonight, it's going to make it tough on him and make him draw penalties and hopefully score when he's in the penalty box."
Give some credit here to 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, who kept Toews, Kane and Byfuglien on different lines for much of the night, making it difficult for the Flyers to adjust, especially without the last change.
That will be different on Wednesday, when Philadelphia will be able to change last and will already be aware of the wrinkle the 'Hawks introduced in Game 5. Still, they'll need a more conventional showing from Pronger, a veteran of 170 playoff games who has bounced back from stinkers before.
Just an hour after Sunday's disaster, Pronger insisted the images were, "already gone. I don't remember anything."