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Minutes starting to add up fast for Flyers' defensemen
By Barry Rozner | Daily Herald Staff
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Published: 6/3/2010 7:04 PM | Updated: 6/3/2010 10:55 PM

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PHILADELPHIA - It has so far been a herculean effort, but you have to wonder how long the Flyers' defense can keep up this pace against a faster and younger Blackhawks team.

And while Hawks coach Joel Quenneville can go to a Brent Sopel as he has in this series when he doesn't trust Brian Campbell - playing Sopel more minutes than anyone would have imagined - Flyers boss Peter Laviolette doesn't have that option.

He played Chris Pronger 32:07 in Game 3, with Braydon Coburn getting 31:26, Matt Carle 29:43 and Kimmo Timonen 28:38.

For the Hawks, not even Duncan Keith (28:14) played as much as any of the Flyers' top four in the 66-minute game.

"You get into overtime, those minutes are going to go up,'' Laviolette said Thursday, trying to downplay the heavy workload. "All our defensemen were in that 30-minute range.''

For the series, Quenneville has managed the Hawks' defensive minutes wisely, even when tempted to abuse Keith with more ice time.

After three games, Keith leads with an average of over 28 minutes, while Brent Seabrook is around 25, Niklas Hjalmarsson 22, Sopel 21, Campbell 16 and Jordan Hendry about 7 minutes.

"We're used to a lot of ice time and this time of year you want to be on the ice,'' Keith said. "I mean, I don't know anyone who doesn't want to be playing in the Stanley Cup Finals and out there every other shift.

"This is what you dream about as a kid. This is what you wait your whole life for.''

It's working fine for the Hawks, but the Flyers are going to run into exhaustion the longer this series goes, and for them to win it this series will have to very long, which doesn't bode well for them.

Pronger came into the Finals already averaging a playoff-high 28:48 per game, but he's up over 31 minutes through three games against the Hawks, and followed closely by Carle at over 27 minutes, and Coburn and Timonen at more than 26 minutes.

After that, it drops off to only 8 minutes per game for Lukas Krajicek, and barely 4 minutes for the combination of Oskars Bartulis/Ryan parent.

As good as Pronger has been, and he's been amazing, he's 35 and playing huge minutes after 110 games when you include the regular season, Olympics and playoffs.

"(Pronger) is amazing and seems to be getting better and better with every game in the playoffs,'' said Flyers teammate Danny Briere. "He's eating more and more minutes.

"Aside from our coach, he's the only one with a Stanley Cup. His demeanor, his calmness in the dressing room, he just brings a lot of confidence.

"You look at him and you realize he's been there before. He knows what he's doing.

"And he took a lot of the pressure away from his teammates with the puck (controversy). I don't know if it was really on purpose or if it's (Ben) Eager that made it bigger than it really was.''

Pronger's intent is unknown, but it did distract from the Flyers' pair of 1-goal defeats, putting the focus elsewhere, and it allowed his teammates to laugh while Pronger seemed to take delight in the silliness of it.

"I don't know,'' Briere said. "He just seems very sure of himself, and it trickles down to the rest of the team, I believe. But his play has been amazing.''

It really has, but with so many minutes under his skates, how long can it last?

Game 4 may answer that question.