Flyers hopeful on Gagne
VOORHEES, N.J. — The Flyers have been waiting for something positive to come their way. Hampered by injuries and halted by the Bruins’ seemingly impenetrable defense, Philadelphia may have gotten its first big break yesterday, with signs that Simon Gagne’s broken right big toe will be well enough for him to go in tonight’s do-or-die Game 4.
The winger skated at practice for the first time since having surgery April 23, and hopes to be in the lineup tonight.
After a disheartening 4-1 loss in Game 3 Wednesday night put the Flyers on the threshold of summer vacation, any bit of good news would have been welcome. But if Gagne is able to return after a two-week layoff, it could deliver a jolt of energy to the Flyers’ sullen locker room, as well as a shot in the arm to their frozen offense.
“He does a lot of things for us,’’ coach Peter Laviolette said. “He plays top-line minutes. He plays power play. He kills penalties. He plays against other teams’ best players. When you take those guys out of the lineup, when they’re able to come back, you certainly welcome them back.’’
“To get a guy like him back would be a big boost,’’ said goalie Brian Boucher, who has been in net for all three losses. “I didn’t know he was coming along that quickly. Pleasant surprise.’’
Playing without Gagne and leading goal scorer Jeff Carter, who also broke a toe on his right foot in the first-round series against New Jersey, the Flyers have had no trouble putting the puck on net, averaging a shade over 32 shots per game against Boston. Turning them into quality scoring chances, however, has been an issue.
With Bruins captain Zdeno Chara leading the way defensively, Philadelphia has settled for an array of off-angle attempts that Tuukka Rask has calmly turned aside.
Gagne is the type of veteran playmaker who could help the Flyers unlock the mysteries of the Bruins’ neutral-zone defense. In 58 games this season, Gagne was fourth on the team with 17 goals.
“It’s not like we’re getting outplayed by much and I think the chances are right there for us,’’ said Gagne. “We just haven’t gotten those lucky bounces like we did against Jersey.’’
Whether Gagne is able to play tonight or not — and that will not be determined until after he sees the team doctor this morning — the Flyers will need a sharper offensive performance if they hope to send the series back to Boston.
Philadelphia spent the bulk of Game 3 searching for ways to get the puck past the Bruins’ trap. Laviolette used a third-period timeout to discuss possible methods to beat the defense, then invented another timeout late in the game by pulling Boucher for Johan Backlund, only to switch back moments later.
“We tried first passing it and trying to move it side to side and we couldn’t do it there,’’ said Laviolette. “Then we tried to beat one man to get to the red line and it wasn’t effective. When we could get it deep, we seemed to have lost our speed. You’ve got to give them some credit.
“There’s got to be a better way to generate offense against this team.’’
The Flyers have just one chance left to find that better way.