The way Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Chris Pronger minimized the Chicago Blackhawks top line in the first four games of the Stanley Cup final, it was a shocking turn of events to see him struggle in Game 5.
Pronger was a minus-five in Philadelphia's 7-4 loss to the Blackhawks, who took a 3-2 series lead on Sunday night at the United Center. The big lug was on the ice for six Blackhawks' goals and was in the penalty box for the other.
"I think you just stated it," said Pronger, when asked about his play after he was informed of his dismal plus-minus rating. "There isn't much else to say."
The decision by Chicago coach Joel Quenneville to split up the first line of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien paid dividends. Six different Blackhawks scored. Kane scored once and had an assist. Byfuglien checked in with two goals and two assists — this after he registered only an assist in the previous four outings.
Quenneville freed up his top players by placing Toews between Marian Hossa and Tomas Kopecky. Kane played alongside Patrick Sharp and Andrew Ladd. Byfuglien was dropped to the third line with Dave Bolland and Kris Versteeg.
"We didn't have too much production out of us," Byfuglien said. "We had to change things up…. All year we've mixed the lines around, and everyone has really played with everyone. So it wasn't a real big thing. It was just going out there and playing together as a team and moving our feet and doing the right things."
Pronger refused to agree that the new line combinations made a difference because of how poor the Flyers played. They looked slow. They lost every battle. They weren't physical. They didn't establish a forecheck and they couldn't harness the Blackhawks in the neutral zone as they did in the past two games in Philadelphia.
Chicago dominates possession
The Blackhawks had the puck for most of the game, especially in the first period when they built a 3-0 lead on goals from Brent Seabrook on the power play, Bolland and Versteeg.
Flyers rookie Ville Leino remarked that Philadelphia was possibly "too ready" and "a little bit nervous."
"That might be it," Flyers defenceman Kimmo Timonen said. "Not many of us have been here before. It wasn't us [in the game]. Now we have to move on.
"That was probably the worst period we played all season. I don't know what happened. Maybe we sat back. But I have to give them credit because they won all the one-on-one battles."
Flyers goalie Michael Leighton was pulled for the second time in the series to begin the second period. He allowed three goals on 13 shots. In the pre-game skate, he took a shot off his knee and left the ice early, favouring the injured area.
He said afterwards that it was just a bruise and, "did not affect on the way I played."
There will be plenty of speculation before Game 6 back in Philadelphia whether Leighton deserves another chance to play. His teammates backed Leighton, saying that he was hung out to dry as was the case in the series opener when he was replaced by backup Brian Boucher.
Leighton remarked that he felt only the second goal from Bolland was his fault, when the puck caromed off the end boards and Kane banked a shot off the goalie's skate.
The Flyers came out stronger in the second period when Scott Hartnell poked in a loose puck in the opening minute. But every time Philadelphia scored to get within two, the Blackhawks answered with a goal.
Kane answered Hartnell. Byfuglien then answered Timonen to end the second period.
The goal sequence in the final 20 minutes went James van Riemsdyk for Philadelphia, Sharp, Simon Gagne for the Flyers, Byfuglien into the empty net.
The Blackhawks kept the home-team-wins trend going in this series, but this was the first time the Flyers lost a game in a series past a post-Game 3 in their playoff run. They had won a remarkable nine times in Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 this spring.
Now they have to forget their miserable effort in Game 5 of the final and go back home, where they are 9-1 in the playoffs.
"It's already gone. I can't remember anything," Pronger said.