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Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Detroit Red Wings during preseason action at the Wachovia Center on September 22, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (Bruce Bennett/2009 Getty Images)
Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers skates against the Detroit Red Wings during preseason action at the Wachovia Center on September 22, 2009 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) (Bruce Bennett/2009 Getty Images)

Roy MacGregor

A new bully on Broad Street Add to ...

It was late spring of 1993, and Chris Pronger looked like a skinny little kid who had been put on a torture rack to stretch him to 6 feet 6 inches.



It was the deepest draft in years, the expansion Ottawa Senators already decided on Alexandre Daigle, Hartford Whalers then general manager Brian Burke desperately trying to move in the draft standings to pick what he wanted from a group that included Paul Kariya, Chris Gratton and Pronger.

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He did, sending a first round pick, two seconds, a third and a player to the San Jose Sharks for the right to pick second, and took Pronger.



"No one remembers who came second," the flamboyant Daigle said at the time.



I asked Pronger what he thought of such a statement.



"Ask me in five years," he said.



Well, it will be 17 years come June and there is simply no point in asking. Daigle flamed out and faded and left the NHL for the Swiss leagues. Pronger, on the other hand, went on to win the Norris Trophy as the league's top defenceman, the Hart as its most valuable player and the Stanley Cup with the 2007 Anaheim Ducks.



Sunday evening, at 35 and long since filled out to 220 pounds, he stood as the Broad Street Bully, a player whose success, or lack of success, against the small and swift Montreal Canadiens could well be the deciding factor in this Eastern Conference final.



This night it was all success.



Pronger made his opening statement instantly, taking down Montreal's Mike Cammalleri, the leading goal scorer (12) of these Stanley Cup playoffs at the 1:13 mark. His was the first name to go on the scoresheet: two minutes for cross-checking.



"We want to play physical on every play," he said at the end of this 6-0 destruction of the Montreal offence.



Pronger sent a second signal early in the second, pounding Montreal's Mathieu Darche to the ice for daring to chase a puck that was bouncing dangerously close to Flyers netminder Michael Leighton. Minutes later, when Montreal's Tom Pyatt tried to reach the net area, he bulled Pyatt into Leighton - causing Pyatt to pick up a penalty for goalie interference.



Mean will have its say in this round.



It did not when Montreal took out the Washington Capitals in Round 1 and did not when Montreal defeated the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 2.



Pronger, who regularly plays some 30 minutes a night, guaranteed that Round 3 would have a physical side in both directions. He cut them down when Montreal dared to crash the net. The Philadelphia forwards, on the other hand, crashed at will, pumping the score to 4-0 before Jaroslav Halak, the hero of the previous rounds, was removed from the Montreal net and replaced with Carey Price.



The test for Montreal's speedy, tiny forwards was whether they get through this Pronger-led defence and survive the pounding that has so often been spring ritual in Philadelphia.



"We wanted to come out and set the tone," said Flyers captain Mike Richards.



"Obviously that's the game plan, to play physically."



Hard, physical play comes easily to Pronger, who has been suspended at least eight times - even forfeiting playoff games in 2007 with head shots against Detroit's Tomas Holmstrom and Ottawa's Dean McAmmond. After McAmmond went down in Game 3 of that final, Ottawa never again threatened.



Pronger has been all around the NHL - Hartford, St. Louis, Edmonton, Anaheim - and certainly has his baggage, from a bar brawl in his rookie season to so much gossip in Edmonton that the woman he was allegedly involved with took to the Internet to plead her innocence.



On the other hand, the Dryden, Ont., native has not missed the playoffs in 14 seasons, a remarkable record in this age of so much parity.



Whatever effect his presence, he does not pass unnoticed. By game's end, the Canadiens were trying to goad him into the sort of foolish penalties he has been known for - but all to no avail. The Flyers took fewer penalties (four) than the Canadiens (six).



One game, of course, does not a series make.



But one game can point out profound differences between one side and the other.



And the swift, small Canadiens are going to have to figure out how to get themselves, with the puck, past Pronger and his tough defensive partners.



Once through, then they can think about getting the puck in the other team's net.

Follow on Twitter: @RoyMacG

 

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