Pronger has Kane in pain

PHILADELPHIA -- Patrick Kane looked like he had fallen asleep facedown on a set of railroad tracks. Like he had contracted a rare rash or maybe lost a fight with an angry alley cat.

The third option was the closest to the truth, except that Chris Pronger is a little meaner than your average alley cat and Kane's reddened face only revealed part of the beating the Blackhawks' winger continued to take in Chicago's 4-3 overtime loss to Philadelphia in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.

If there was a positive to be taken from a defeat that cut the Hawks' lead in the series to 2-1, it was that Kane broke his finals scoring drought Wednesday night, a seemingly harmless transgression given his team's victories in Games 1 and 2. But with linemates Jonathan Toews and Dustin Byfuglien joining him in that category, it was noteworthy and provoked suggestions that perhaps Kane was overwhelmed by the finals stage.

That was ridiculous, of course, since Kane and Toews have anchored the Hawks' offense all season, and Kane had scored seven goals in the first 12 playoff games and had been on some big stages before.
But was he (and is he) up to the task of withstanding the unique kind of pressure Pronger and Co. inflict?

"It's just intense," Kane said after the Game 3 pounding. "You can tell my face is a little messed up right now. But that's just the way hockey is."

It bears restating here that when you see Kane in the thin, black long underwear hockey players wear under their uniforms, he looks like a kid in his pj's; listing him at 5-foot-10, 178 pounds, seems really generous considering most pencil-necked reporters look as if they could take him.

This is probably not true. But when Pronger attempted to remove Kane's head from his body in Wednesday night's third period, then slammed his 6-6, 220 pounds on top of Kane, there were 8 inches and 42 pounds of excess Philadelphia defenseman and almost no sign of Kane.

When Kane emerged and skated the rest of his shift without his helmet, it might have been better than the alternative, but it did signal that while Kane is usually quick and elusive enough to avoid most serious NHL contact, this series is putting the Hawks' young star in a precarious position, if not in downright peril.

Kane downplayed it, as you would expect.

"I don't know, that's the way hockey's played," he said. "Sometimes you get in those positions. I think there was probably one big hit when my helmet came off. Besides that, I don't know if they ever really had any good licks on me. Here and there. Obviously, they're going to finish their checks, but you can't worry about that too much. If you're worried about that, you're not going to be playing hockey as well."

Kane's teammates, who for the early part of his career felt compelled to protect and retaliate for any rough stuff against him, were not coddling him, either.

"He's a big boy," said Duncan Keith. "His helmet got knocked off, that's the way it goes. He can take hits. He had a nice goal tonight and I thought he played a good game."

During the meat grinder that was Game 3, Brent Sopel said it would be hard to say Pronger or any of the Flyers were targeting Kane specifically.

"It's a war out there," Sopel said. "I think everybody's going after everybody. Nobody any more than any other guy. When anybody has a chance to finish somebody, they're going to, or punish somebody, they're going to."

Still, when Kane was asked if he thought Pronger got too much leeway from officials who appear to be frightened of the frightening Flyer, the winger did not hesitate.

"Yeah, for sure," he replied.

Kane's goal came on a breakaway (assisted by Toews) when he beat Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen up the ice and flicked it past goalie Michael Leighton for the Hawks' first lead of the game, 3-2, early in the third period. It would also turn out to be their only lead of the game, and it would last just 20 seconds as Flyers winger Ville Leino tied it before the tiny buzz generated by Kane's score had died down.

"I don't think it deflated anyone at all," said Pronger of Kane's goal, and obviously not of the previously flattened Kane.

It was Kane's first goal in six games dating back to Game 6 against Vancouver in the second round.

"It's always nice to chip one in some way or another," he said. "It would've been nice to get another one in overtime. But hopefully [I'm] saving those for later."

As for his night, which also included an assist on the Hawks' first goal of the night by Duncan Keith, Kane would not discount that it might have a carryover affect into Game 4.

"It's always nice for your confidence to put up a few points," he said. "The first game, I thought I was terrible; last game, I thought I was getting a little bit better; and tonight, I thought I played pretty good. So hopefully I'll just keep getting better throughout the series."

And, without question, that much tougher as well.

"To be honest, I think [the rough stuff] gets us into the game a little bit more," he said. "Sometimes, you get hit a few times, get punched in the face, whatever it may be, it gets you into the game and makes you want to do some different things. I don't know. It's an intense game. It's the Stanley Cup finals."

Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.