Saturday, June 05, 2010

Pronger Wins Again

Pretend for a moment, travel back in time just under a week ago. Imagine you are Peter Laviolette, your Flyers are returning home down two games to none in the Stanley Cup Finals, and you are musing on the fixes required.

Mind you, I am convinced it helps the Flyers when Laviolette has time to muse. In these play-offs, the Flyers are now 7-0 during the playoffs in Games 4-7 of a series- in big part due to Laviolette’s tinkering. Unlike the 2006 Olympics, the Flyers get better, make the right adjustments, the more Laviolette gets to reflect.

To that end, I think Coach Laviolette first conclusion was that it was going to be thorny for the Flyers to beat the Blackhawks through persistent five-on-five match-ups. All things being equal, the Hawks have better and more options up and down the roster.

So he cut that out- and instead of worrying what guys were going to match-up with the likes of Toews, Kane and Dustin Byfuglien- he committed to a recipe of Chris Pronger. Laviolette might not have the five best players out there- but for thirty minutes a night, he has the very best single player out there. A Eric Lindros strategy that actually works.

Seriously, examine every question, every tricky situation the Flyers face: kill the penalty, four-on-four, calm team down, ramp team up, need a physical play, go on the power play. What is the answer? Walk down the bench and tap Pronger on the shoulder.

Compare that to the Hawks’ leader Jonathan Towes. From the Sun Times article “Can We get Our Captain”:
But the Hawks need more from him. They need the player who was charging to the net late in the third period when Brian Campbell's shot skipped past Flyers goalie Michael Leighton to cut the lead to 4-3.

It's as if someone has shut off the power on Toews and, by extension, linemates Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien. Toews came into this series as the postseason's leader in points with 26. He has 27 now.

He had 68 points in 76 games this season. That ability helped the Hawks get to this point. It'd be a shame if he and they went out with a whimper now.
Laviolette’s second decision was to ramp up the character quotient versus the hockey component. Playing various hockey styles in the first two tilts did not stop Chicago, maybe character plays and players would. You can rag Dan Carcillo all you want, but his introduction into the line-up changed the Flyers attitude: yapping, openly challenging Chicago players. He and Pronger changed the tone of this series- away from hockey to character levened by sporadic calculated messaged violence. It worked so well the Flyers can now afford to scratch him. Chicago is real deep in the hole of retaliation penalties, scratching second tier hockey players for muscle- thus negating some of their down roster scoring and skill.

As a result you get this:
The Blackhawks still are two games away from their first Stanley Cup since 1961. But after their 5-3 loss to the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 4 on Friday night at the Wachovia Center, it's worth noting that they're also two games closer to the worst Hawks collapse in the finals since 1971.

It's a Chicago thing.

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