2010 NHL playoffs: Flyers are forward-thinking after returns of Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter and Ian Laperriere

By Tarik El-Bashir
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 23, 2010; 6:30 PM

VOORHEES, N.J. -- In the span of five periods in the Philadelphia Flyers' Eastern Conference quarterfinal series, three of their most important forwards suffered significant injuries.

Simon Gagné was lost to a fractured toe, Jeff Carter broke a bone in his foot and Ian Laperrière sustained a brain contusion. Gagné needed surgery. So did Carter, who was told his season was finished. Their absence was supposed to signal the end of the Philadelphia's improbable run.

It didn't.

The Flyers, somewhat surprisingly, managed to hang around long enough for all three to heal. Gagné returned after two weeks and Carter and Laperrière rejoined the lineup in Montreal for Saturday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals. Finally healthy after weeks of surviving despite a patchwork lineup, Philadelphia is starting to look like a Stanley Cup contender, not the team that sneaked into the postseason through the back door.

"You're talking about two guys that play a big role on the team," Gagné said of Carter and Laperrière. "It's almost like the perfect timing for us to get those two guys back."

The timing, in fact, couldn't be any better. On Monday, the Flyers can close out the Canadiens at Wachovia Center and secure the franchise's first berth in the Stanley Cup finals in 13 years.

There's no doubting Gagné's impact. The star winger has seven goals in eight games and the Flyers are 7-1. But now, can the reintroduction of Carter and Laperrière put Philadelphia over the top?

"When we play with a full lineup . . . we're a good team, and we play with a lot of energy," captain Mike Richards said. Laperrière "obviously is an emotional guy, which we feed off of, and [Carter's] speed and his shot give a lot of people problems too. It's just rolling four lines, having everybody in the lineup, and feeling comfortable throwing any line on the ice at any time."

Carter was the Flyers' leading goal scorer in the regular season with 33; Laperrière's a spark-plug type who's also the team's best penalty killer. Both made an impact in a 3-0 victory in Game 4, which, arguably, was Philadelphia's most complete effort of the playoffs.

Before the game, Carter told Coach Peter Laviolette that he thought he could play 10-12 minutes in his first game since April 20. He ended up taking 22 shifts for a total of 13 minutes 51 seconds, tied for the team high in shots with four and won three of his four faceoffs.

"It took me a couple of shifts to get my feet underneath me," Carter said after limping across the dressing room Sunday at the team's practice facility in suburban Philadelphia. "That power play, to make a little move like that, it builds the confidence up and set the tone for me for the rest of the game."

The "little move" was a toe-drag he made at the offensive blue line that created a breakaway that ended with Canadiens goaltender Jaroslav Halak foiling his attempt with a blocker save.

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