PHILADELPHIA | No one player means as much to the Capitals as Chris Pronger does to the Flyers – not even Alex Ovechkin. Of course the Caps would be hard-pressed making a Stanley Cup run without their superstar, but they have other guys who can make up for his absence.
Pronger is darn near irreplaceable. And the Flyers are moving on to the second round because the big defenseman came back and played a major role in Wednesday night’s 5-2 victory in Game 7 against the Sabres.
“I think his presence back there is huge,” Flyers left wing James van Riemsdyk said. “He is so calm with the puck. He makes passes right on the tape, right where they need to be, and he is a really good quarterback on the power play. When you get a guy like him back in the lineup it’s huge.”
Try having Karl Alzner, Mike Green and Jason Arnott all out of the lineup at the same time. Pronger is the Flyers’ top shutdown defenseman, their top power-play point man and their vocal leader in the locker room.
He missed the series’ first five games bouncing back from a broken bone in his right hand. Then he was phased in on just the power play in Game 6 and saw a bigger role in the series deciding matchup at Wells Fargo Center.
“I think as the series progresses and as you go through the rehab, therapy, and all the rest of that, eventually you hit a point where you get tested and [this] was that night,” Pronger said.
His stat line isn’t all that impressive: one assist in 17:27 of ice time. But it’s certainly not coincidental that the power play started clicking with Pronger back in the lineup.
“No question,” Philadelphia coach Peter Laviolette said. “He makes terrific plays. Whether they are big plays or little plays, sometimes you don’t even notice them. Just his presence back there and his shot opens up other things. He looked really strong in all situations.”
The Flyers fell to the brink without Pronger and it’s also not coincidental that they staved off elimination with him. And now they become the threat in the Eastern Conference that they looked to be a few short weeks ago.
It’s tough to even imagine had Pronger not played in this series. Perhaps Buffalo would have moved on to face the Caps and the Flyers would have gone home.
“I don’t know about that,” Pronger said. “I guess we’ll never know, will we?”