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Pronger’s presence is felt

Times Staff Writer

DALLAS -- In the first two games of their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Dallas Stars, the Ducks saw a Chris Pronger they don’t want to see.

The invisible one.

They prefer the hard-skating, occasionally nasty one who scored two goals in Game 3.

Good or bad, the 6-foot-6 Pronger always draws attention. And in his drive to win, he sometimes crosses the line, as evidenced by his eight career suspensions, including an eight-game punishment toward the end of the regular season.

But Pronger’s performance Tuesday night showed why such reprimands by the NHL are something to simply accept.

The Ducks brought him aboard two summers ago because they knew he would make a difference. He did just that, finally, against the Stars, not only delivering the two goals but also collecting an assist in the Ducks’ 4-2 victory. More important, he was his old physical self, knocking opposing forwards to the ice and making life rough for them in front of the net.

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That wasn’t the case in the first two games in Anaheim, both blowout losses in the best-of-seven series. On one egregious goal by Jere Lehtinen in Game 2, Pronger had been in position to clear a rebound left by goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere but did nothing to keep Lehtinen from getting to the puck.

“That’s what makes him Chris Pronger,” Coach Randy Carlyle said of the Ducks’ ornery captain. “Would he like to have some of those things back? Yeah. So would we. But we’re going to live with him the way he is. Because we need his best game.”

Pronger’s two-goal game was his first in 131 postseason contests and his three-point night was the most in 22 playoff games with the Ducks. He also registered three hits and three blocked shots in nearly 24 minutes of ice time.

In Games 1 and 2, Pronger had only five shots on goal and no points. On Sunday, as the team left for Dallas, the six-time All-Star acknowledged that he wasn’t performing to his usual high standards.

The 180-degree showing made an impact.

“He’s such a big guy that he doesn’t slide under the radar, ever,” defenseman Sean O’Donnell said. “When he plays like that, everyone notices.”

Perhaps part of Pronger’s success Tuesday night was thanks to Carlyle, who shuffled the deck and put Pronger and Scott Niedermayer together as defense partners for much of the game.

The two have played beside each other, but only on occasional power plays and in late-game situations while protecting a lead. Carlyle usually wants to have at least one of the star defensemen on the ice the entire game. But down, 2-0, in the series, he tossed that philosophy aside.

“I don’t know if it did anything,” he said, referring to the impact on Pronger. “We’ve done that before. We felt it was necessary in the situation we were in and are still in.

“We have to make some adjustment on a game-to-game basis and that was one.”

Pronger downplayed his contributions, as well as the effect that playing alongside Niedermayer may have had.

“I try not to read into things too much,” he said. “I let them speak for themselves. We’ve played together a little bit last year in the playoffs and obviously in late-game situations. It was nice getting the opportunity to play with him.”

O’Donnell said Pronger wasn’t bothered by criticism he received before Game 3.

“That’s one thing that’s good about him,” said O’Donnell, Pronger’s regular partner on the ice. “He tends to not read the papers or pay attention to what people are saying on television.

“I think he felt like he had more in his game after the first two nights, as we all did. We felt like none of us played to our potential.”

Now, the Ducks appear to have found themselves.

“I think we were all struggling in the first two games,” Giguere said. “We made each other look bad by not trying better altogether. Saying that, Chris is our captain. He’s one of our leaders. He’s probably one of the top three defensemen in this league.

“When Chris shows up and plays a great game, we’re all better. He’s that good.”

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eric.stephens@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

In tandem

Time that Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer spent as defense partners on the

ice during the series:

Game 1 ... Seven shifts, 3:47

Game 2 ... Six shifts, 3:58

Game 3 ... 26 shifts, 21:37

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Total ice time for Pronger and Niedermayer in the three games:

Pronger

Game 1: 23:45

Game 2: 25:02

Game 3: 23:56

Niedermayer

Game 1: 24:45

Game 2: 21:03

Game 3: 26:56

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Los Angeles Times


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