Flyers' Forsberg game-time call for tonight
Needing to win their final four games to clinch the Atlantic Division title and secure the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference, the Flyers might have to do it without Forsberg, their star center who has missed the last three games with a groin injury.
Forsberg participated in an optional skate at the team's practice facility on Wednesday and said his status for Thursday night's game at New Jersey will be a game-time decision.
The Devils, sixth in the East, trail Philadelphia by two points. The Flyers are three points behind the division-leading Rangers, who have three games left. The teams meet in Philadelphia on Saturday.
"It's more important to be healthy for the playoffs than one or two games," Forsberg said. "I want to come back healthy. I want to make sure I'm 100 percent."
If the Flyers stayed in fifth place, they'd likely meet the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. If they won the division, they'd probably end up playing the Devils. Finishing sixth would give them a matchup against the Rangers.
Considering all options, the Flyers might be better off losing a few games and playing New York, which is making its first postseason appearance since 1997. The streaking Devils have won eight straight games and are 28-8-5 at home against the Flyers since 1990. The Sabres won three of the four games against Philadelphia this season.
While the Flyers certainly want the home-ice advantage that goes to the top four teams, they have played better on the road this season. Philadelphia is 21-13-6 at the Wachovia Center, 22-11-5 on the road.
With Forsberg, the former NHL MVP in the lineup, the Flyers are 33-16-9. Without him, they're 10-8-2. Forsberg has 19 goals and 55 assists for 74 points in 58 games. He's gone out four separate times with groin injuries.
"If you look at the standings, you're going to get a good opponent," Forsberg said. "If we win the division, we get Jersey. We're not going to get an easy opponent."
Forsberg missed the eight games before the Olympic break with a groin injury. But he played in the Torino Games, helping Sweden win its first gold medal since 1994. He has four goals and eight assists in 16 games since returning from the Olympics.
"We're not going to put him in unless he's 100 percent," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "If he's 100 percent after today, we'll probably let him go at it. But if he's not, then we will wait until Saturday."
Forsberg signed a two-year, $11.5 million contract with Philadelphia after leading Colorado to two Stanley Cup championships during his nine years with the Avalanche.
The Flyers have been decimated by injuries this season, losing six players -- former captain Keith Primeau, forward Sami Kapanen and defensemen Eric Desjardins, Joni Pitkanen, Kim Johnsson and Chris Therien -- for more than 20 games. Primeau (concussion), Johnsson (concussion symptoms) and Therien (head) remain out.
"We've had to overcome adversity the whole season," Hitchcock said.
Goaltender Robert Esche will make his fifth start in six games against the Devils. Hitchcock hasn't named his playoff starter, but it appears he's leaning toward Esche over Antero Niittymaki. Esche is 21-9-5 with a 2.94 goals-against average and .897 save percentage. Niittymaki is 22-15-6 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .894 save percentage.
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press
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