Voorhees, NJ – While the Flyers continue to battle for the top spot in the Atlantic Division, center Peter Forsberg is still recovering from a groin injury which has forced him out of the last three games, including Tuesday night's 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Head Coach Ken Hitchcock gave the team the day off Wednesday from any on-ice activity, but the players who did not play against Pittsburgh skated for about 40 minutes. Included in that group was Forsberg, whose status is still unclear for Thursday night's crucial game in New Jersey against the Devils (7:30 p.m., CSN).
"We're not going to put him in unless he's 100 percent. If he's 100 [percent] after today, we'll let him go at it tomorrow, but if he's not we'll wait until Saturday [against New York]," said Hitchcock after practice.
It is evident that Forsberg himself is going to make sure that he is at maximum health for the playoffs, which begin on April 21, and will not risk any further aggravation of his groin which has bothered him on and off for much of the season.
"We're in the mix here with what position we're going to get, but I think right now it doesn't really matter who we're going to play," said Forsberg. "It's going to be a tough first round anyway. We want to win the games that are left, but for me, personally, it's more important to be healthy when I go into the playoffs than coming back and playing too early."
Mike Knuble, who has been a beneficiary of playing with Forsberg for most of the season, knows that Forsberg is key to the offense, but that the team can still win without him in the lineup.
"We probably all have a little bit more swagger when he's in the lineup, but I think we're all used to playing without him, too," said Knuble. "He's missed a bunch of games this year and so we're sort of used to it. But, there's no doubt we're a much better Flyers team with him in the lineup. There's no question about that."
Of course, if it were the playoffs, Forsberg would be playing according to Hitchcock.
"He'll be playing at 40 percent if it's a playoff game, like everybody will," said Hitchcock. "Right now, we'll see. He practiced well [Tuesday] and skated hard today again, so we'll see."
Flyers Control Their Destiny
With four games left in the regular season, the Flyers will finish first in the Atlantic Division if they win all of them. They trail the Rangers by three points; have one game in hand, as well as a head-to-head game on Saturday afternoon at the Wachovia Center.
Sandwiched around the Rangers game are two tilts with the Devils in East Rutherford, while the last game of the regular season is April 18 on Long Island.
"I think as a player, that's what you want and all you can ask for, is to not have your season dictated by somebody else winning or losing a game," said Knuble. "If you get it done then you pat yourself on the back, and if you don't, you look in the mirror and figure out what went wrong and get yourself together and get back at it."
Hitchcock cautioned that the team should take the proverbial one-game-at-a-time approach and not necessarily think that it has to win all four to gain the third seed in the conference.
"I don't think we want to get too far ahead of ourselves here. We want to play well," he said. "We'd like to play a little bit better at home, but we'd like to also continue to play well against good teams."
The Devils are just two points behind the Flyers, having played one more game than Philadelphia.
"We've played really well against them for two years now, but we also know they are one-goal hockey games and they are going to be close. We know if they get the lead that it's uphill for us, and we really have to claw a lot because they're prepared to play 1-0 right to the end," said Hitchcock.
"Getting the lead and making them come out of their game a little bit and have to open it up is an advantage for us. If you look at the games we've won, we've gotten leads early in the first 10 minutes of the first period, and it's kind of changed the style of game a little bit."