Where Pronger goes, Stanley Cup dreams follow

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger has been a Stanley Cup talisman the last five seasons, reaching the finals three times with three different teams.

Perhaps more instructive of Pronger's value, however, is how his teams have performed when the hulking blueliner packs his skates and moves on.

In his first and only season in Edmonton, the Norris trophy-winning defenseman led the Oilers to the 2006 finals.

The next season Pronger signed with Anaheim and the Oilers failed to make the playoffs. The Ducks, however, went on to claim their first and only Stanley Cup.

The all-star blueliner left Anaheim to join the Flyers this season and is back in the Cup finals, while the Ducks never qualified for the playoffs.

It marks the 14th consecutive season Pronger has made a playoff appearance and that is no fluke, according to Flyers coach Peter Laviolette.

"I don't think it's a coincidence," Laviolette told reporters. "He just has a way of calming the game down.

"He's a physical player. He plays with an edge.

"You never see him diving anywhere or sprawling anywhere. He's always in control of himself, the puck and the game."

The Flyers paid a steep price to land an aging defenseman whose best years appeared behind him when they sent two first round picks to Anaheim for the 35-year-old.

But the old warhorse has performed more like a young colt this spring, logging more minutes than any other player, averaging 28 per night, and most of them against the opposing team's top line.

Pronger's play has been at such a high level that he is being touted as one of the leading candidates for the Conn Smythe trophy which goes to the Stanley Cup MVP.

Big and mean, Pronger has provided the Flyers with a menacing physical presence on the blueline and a calming confidence on the bench.

After 14 consecutive seasons in the playoff pressure cooker and having weathered the crushing expectations that came with helping Canada win gold at the Winter Olympics, there is little he has yet to face and overcome on a hockey rink.

"I've been in those situations before," he said. "You learn how to handle it.

"Also, I've played with a lot of great players that I've been able to learn an awful lot from.

"Certainly one of (the lessons) is how they handle tough defeats and how they handle wins as well."

(Writing by Steve Keating in Detroit; Editing by Ian Ransom)