Esche feels 'normal'; Malakhov is doubtful

Updated: May 6, 2004, 2:48 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Flyers goalie Robert Esche practiced Monday and might be able to start Game 6 against the Maple Leafs after leaving Game 5 with what the team referred to as "flu symptoms."

Defenseman Vladimir Malakhov is doubtful, however, for Tuesday night's game at Toronto because he injured his head during Philadelphia's 7-2 victory Sunday.

Philadelphia leads the best-of-7 series 3 2.

Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock wouldn't say whether Malakhov has a concussion. The defenseman will participate in the morning skate Tuesday, then be evaluated.

Esche left Sunday's game after the first period because he was dizzy and dehydrated. Sean Burke played the final two periods, allowing one goal. On Sunday, the Flyers would only say that Esche and Malakhov had "upper-body injuries."

"One [injury] we don't have a clue on," Hitchcock said at the time. "We still need some evaluation before we can tell you what it is. The other one, we aren't even sure how to describe it."

Esche was examined by a neurologist on Sunday, not an orthopedic doctor, a Flyers spokesman told ESPN. There has been speculation that Esche might have suffered a concussion.

Following the game Sunday, Esche's status for the remainder of the playoffs was in doubt as Hitchock refused to comment on when Esche was hurt or to give details about the injury.

Hitchcock's coyness was in response to Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn's reluctance to release injury information all series long. Quinn has described injuries to Joe Nieuwendyk and Mats Sundin as "lower-body injuries."

After Monday's practice, Esche wouldn't speak to reporters. He did relay a statement through Hitchcock, though: "I had a lot of jump out there today. I felt better this morning after I woke up, and my energy level felt back to normal."

Starting in the playoffs for the first time, Esche has been outstanding, outplaying New Jersey's Martin Brodeur in the first round and Toronto's Ed Belfour through five games of the second.

Esche is 7-3 with one shutout, a 2.04 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage in the playoffs.

If Esche can't play Tuesday, Burke will start. Antero Niittymaki will travel to Toronto in case the Flyers need a backup.

Esche "played well for us. He looked great today," Burke said. "He was quick, he was jumping around pretty good."

Malakhov was hurt when he was checked into the boards by Toronto's Darcy Tucker in the first period Sunday. If he can't play Tuesday, forward Sami Kapanen will move back to defense to take his spot. Kapanen played defense when Kim Johnsson was sidelined by a hand injury.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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