Pronger comes up big at the right time for the Flyers

MONTREAL - It didn't take Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger long to shake off his most discouraging effort of the playoffs.

Two days removed from two costly turnovers and a minus-3 rating in a 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Pronger played like the beast he is in a game the Flyers desperately needed.

"There probably weren't enough minutes for (Pronger)," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette praised. "He probably wanted to play the whole game."

As it turned out, he did play a little over half.

The end result was a dominant defensive effort on the way to a 3-0 victory in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final before 21,273 at Bell Centre. The Flyers will look to wrap up this best-of-7 matchup, which they now lead, 3-1, on Monday at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia.

It was a typical Pronger-like performance. He logged 31:07 of ice time on 42 shifts, blocked three shots, dished two hits, finished with a plus-1 rating and even aided his team's offensive cause with a textbook pass from his blue line to the other to spring Ville Leino for a breakaway goal that gave the visitors a 2-0 lead.

"I saw Pronger getting the put so, yes, I was expecting that pass," Leino said. "He was unbelievable (Saturday). Actually, he's been unbelievable, I think, in the whole playoffs. He's been the best defenseman in the playoffs."

For Pronger, it was mission accomplished.

"When you have a tough game, you want a rebound," Pronger said. "That's the sign of a professional, and I think we all realized there wasn't too many of us that had a good game in Game 3.

"They obviously played well and we didn't," he continued. "We needed to rebound. We've been a team that's been able to recover from tough defeats like that all season long, and quickly look in the mirror and you see what you need to do to be successful. We were able to rally together and play really well as a team."

Pronger led one of the most dominant performances of a period in this year's playoffs  when he and his teammates limited the Canadiens to one shot in the second while the Philadelphia offense had 13 and scored twice. It marked the first time since the second period of the 2004 Conference Semifinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs that the Flyers yielded only a single shot over a 20-minute span. The Flyers won that game, 2-1, and the series in six games.

Saturday's defensive masterpiece, led by Pronger, also enabled Flyers goalie Michael Leighton to become the first goalie in team history to record three shutouts in a single playoff series. Leighton had to make just 17 saves because the Flyers blocked 27 shots, including six by Pronger's usual defensive partner, Matt Carle.

Pronger explained how the team was able to continually frustrate the Montreal shooters.

"It's making sure you're getting in the lane, making sure you're closing faster to close out the lane quicker," he said. "Good sticks in lanes, forcing them not to pass it to an area where they can shoot right away. They've got to adjust and pick the puck up and try to move around it, which allows you to kind of close on them quicker and get in that shooting lane. Our forwards did an excellent job of blocking shots and getting in shooting lanes."

Pronger is now one win away from advancing to his third Cup Final -- he lost with Edmonton in 2006 and was part of the Anaheim team that beat Ottawa in five games in 2007. But he's not counting out the Canadiens just yet.

"I don't think you can look past that next game and that next win," he said. "You've got to focus on closing out a team and being closers. We've got a team now down 3-1. We've got to get that fourth win.

"We've got to understand what it's going to take, because they're obviously a team that's had their backs against the wall throughout the course of this playoff, through Washington and Pittsburgh, and they've been able to rally and come back," he continued. "We obviously want to stymie that and make sure we're putting our foot on the throat."

Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale