<
>

Flyers' Forsberg game-time call for tonight

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Peter Forsberg wants to be healthy for the
playoffs, even if it means the Philadelphia Flyers have to start on
the road.

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.