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The last time the Edmonton Oilers played the Anaheim Ducks, defenseman Chris Pronger celebrated a Western Conference title after the Oilers eliminated the Ducks on their home ice.
Now, Pronger is defending the ice at the Honda Center for the Ducks, who face the Oilers for the first time Wednesday since last season's conference finals.
A surprise acquisiton via trade from the St. Louis Blues before the 2005-06 season by the Oilers - who then promptly signed him to a five-year, $31.25 million contract - Pronger's presence on the blue line was a key reason Edmonton (6-2-0) made a stirring run to the Stanley Cup finals as the No. 8 seed in the West, pushing eventual champion Carolina to a decisive seventh game after ousting the Ducks in five games in the conference finals.
But happiness quickly turned to anger for Edmonton fans in the offseason after Pronger demanded to be traded. While the 32-year-old defenseman never offered a reason publicly for the trade request, it was reported his wife was unhappy in Edmonton.
"At the end of the season I sat down with my family and discussed which way we wanted to go and in what direction," Pronger said at the time of the trade in July. "And this was the direction we were going to go in, and whether fans agreed with it or not that's the direction we took.
"It was a great run for us last year in Edmonton, certainly one that a lot of us will never forget. Now it's here in Anaheim where we've got to do the same thing."
The Ducks (6-0-2), who traded promising young right wing Joffrey Lupul, a first-round pick in 2007 and a second-round selection in 2008 for the standout defensemen, have reaped early-season benefits of having two of the top defenseman in the league in Pronger and Scott Niedermayer. Anaheim has allowed just 17 goals in its eight games and is the only Western Conference team without a loss in regulation.
After helping extend Edmonton's recent domination of Anaheim with a series sweep in the 2005-06 regular season, Pronger will try to end his new team's misery against the Oilers, who have lost to the Ducks just once in the last 12 games between the teams and three times in 20 meetings since the start of the 2000-01 season.
Anaheim rallied for a 3-2 shootout victory Sunday over Los Angeles, its third straight victory. After falling behind 2-0 in the first period, Ryan Shannon and Dustin Penner scored goals for the Ducks before Ryan Getzlaf scored the shootout winner in the fifth round.
Lupul, a native of Edmonton and grandson of Tom Mayson - part of the Oilers' ownership group - has made a quick adjustment to playing in front of his hometown fans and has three goals and two assists. But the 23-year-old right wing is also quick to put aside all the talk about being acquired for one of the best defensemen in the NHL.
"He's obviously a great player and everyone knows hes a great player. He's the type of player you cant replace because he plays a ton of minutes and is one of the top guys in the league but I also know what I can do," Lupul told the team's website, edmontonoilers.com. "I can score a lot of goals and be a guy thats going to keep improving for a long time. Whereas Chris is kind of at his peak, I'm 10, 12 years young and bring a lot of energy and offense to the team.
"I can't worry about what Chris is doing in Anaheim and what Chris did here last year. He's gone now and I'm here and I've got to play to the best of my ability."
Edmonton carries a three-game winning streak into this game after defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2 on Monday. Petr Sykora had a goal and three assists for the Oilers, who have won all five of their home games.
"Everybody is skating and making plays and looking for each other out there and that is why we have had success. It's why the puck is going in for us," said Sykora, who leads Edmonton with 13 points. "Right now we are getting our chances and we are scoring on them. Patrick is making some great plays out there right now."
Sykora heads a productive first line that also features Ales Hemsky and Norwegian rookie Patrick Thoresen, whom coach Craig MacTavish added to the line after the 22-year-old left wing had a strong preseason.
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