- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

VOORHEES, N.J. — When rookie Vinny Prospal broke his wrist in an April practice and missed the 1997 Stanley Cup Finals, he figured he would have plenty of chances ahead to skate for the Cup.

Eleven years later, the Philadelphia Flyers forward still is looking for his first shot at a championship.

There really haven’t been any close calls: Prospal played in a conference semifinal with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2003, as near to the finals as he has come. The Lightning won the Cup the next season — after Prospal left to join the Anaheim Ducks.

“I didn’t have a crystal ball or anything like that, so I wished them good luck,” Prospal said.

Prospal returned to the Lightning after a one-season absence, then was traded to the contending Flyers on Feb. 25 — a move he welcomed.

“Any time you get a chance you get in the playoffs, you have to grab it because you don’t know when it’s going to happen again,” Prospal said.

The 33-year-old left wing from the Czech Republic is certainly grabbing this chance with gusto. His three assists in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Washington Capitals gave Prospal six points, one shy of the postseason leaders.

Center Danny Briere, the highest-paid player on the Flyers, was underachieving until the acquisition of Prospal, who replaced the injured Simon Gagne on his line. The physical Scott Hartnell does most of the dirty work down low for the other two.

“Vinny has great puck skills, great passion for the game and vision … that you can’t teach,” coach John Stevens said.

Briere, whose four playoff goals were tied for the league lead before last night, said he and Prospal meshed immediately.

“Sometimes with certain players there’s just instant chemistry,” Briere said. “I guess it’s the way you think the game, the way you see the game. I’ve played with some great players that it didn’t really click with and other players that aren’t as gifted that it really clicked. I knew in that first practice that me and Vinny were going to click. He’s patient with the puck, and he finds the open man. His composure with the puck is amazing.”

Prospal might not have had that coolness as a rookie with the Flyers, but his love of the game already was ingrained.

“Vinny has always come to the rink with a smile on his face,” said Flyers assistant coach Terry Murray, Philadelphia’s coach during that 1997 run to the finals. “And he has always had that high skill level. He’s gotten stronger and has developed that skill level to a higher degree playing in Anaheim and with those two world-class players [Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis] in Tampa Bay. Vinny’s a much better player than he was back then, but he still has a big smile on his face.”

Especially when the puck hits the net. Prospal is so eager to score that “when there are pucks laying around in practice he always puts them in the back of the net,” Hartnell said. “Watching him makes me bear down even more in practice.”

And skating with Prospal has made Briere, an All-Star and a native of French-speaking Quebec, even better.

“Danny just came alive when he started playing with Vinny,” Murray said. “You could see the difference in his body language.”

Notes — Flyers ace defenseman Kimmo Timonen said the right shoulder he injured when he was checked into the net by the Caps’ Brooks Laich in the second period of Game 3 was fine. Stevens said Timonen will play in Game 4 tonight. …

Jaroslav Modry’s father died of colon cancer Tuesday in the Czech Republic, but the defenseman will be in the lineup tonight.

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