Lindros to rejoin Flyers front line

Posted: Wednesday, May 24, 2000

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Eric Lindros returned from injury and exile Tuesday to a spot in the Philadelphia Flyers' lineup.

Lindros, sidelined by a series of concussions, skated in his first full team practice in over two months -- one day after being cleared to do so by his doctor in Chicago.

Moments after leaving the ice, Lindros and coach Craig Ramsay announced that the former captain will play Wednesday night against the New Jersey Devils in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals, a series the Flyers lead 3-2.

''I just felt great getting out there and get skating again,'' Lindros said. ''This is what it's all about, to play hockey and to enjoy it. It's a great time of the year and I look forward to playing (Wednesday) night.''

Lindros sustained his fourth concussion in two years when he was checked by Boston's Hall Gill March 4. He played in the next four games, before pulling himself out of the lineup. Dr. James Kelly, a neurologist and concussion specialist who cleared the return, said Lindros had a Grade II concussion -- a more severe injury than the Flyers' medical staff diagnosed.

The star center, who was acquired in 1992, criticized the team and its management for poor treatment and became an outcast. Lindros was then stripped of his captaincy as the Flyers shot back.

While in rehab sessions, trying to recover from the initial injury, Lindros sustained his third concussion of the year at practice on May 4. He needed 20 stitches in his lip after colliding with Francis Lessard of the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms during a drill.

''Eric had to make the decision on whether or not he could play,'' said Ramsay, who added that only coaches and players were involved in having Lindros join the lineup. ''The decision is based on what everyone has to say and everyone's on board here.''

Lindros had his sights set on returning against the Devils and his plan didn't change after the collision that initially looked likely to ruin any chance of playing again this season. He said he was encouraged when he saw his teammates win Game 3 of the second round in overtime to get within 2-1 in the series against the Penguins.

''After Delly (Andy Delmore) scored in Pittsburgh, I knew we were going to come back and beat Pittsburgh and that my focus would be on the Jersey series,'' Lindros said. ''We had a bit of a hiccup earlier, but that goal hasn't changed. It might be a little later in the series, but it's still the series.''

Questions have been raised whether Lindros' return is a good thing for Philadelphia.

''If you want to make an issue ... I don't think the issue lies in our dressing room,'' Lindros said. ''I think the distraction issue lies with what the media does with it and how they want to blow it out. I feel comfortable on the ice, I feel comfortable in the dressing room. I've been around here a long time and I'm just looking forward to playing.''

Lindros, who lost his captaincy to defenseman Eric Desjardins, will be eased back into the flow. He will also have to adjust to the short-shift system the Flyers have implemented since Ramsay took over from coach Roger Neilson, who is receiving cancer treatment.

''We have to make sure it's all positive,'' Desjardins said of Lindros' return. ''He's a great player, he's a natural. He's a guy who can come in and play great for us. We can't expect him to carry us, we have to win as a team.''

The Devils snapped a three-game losing streak in the series Monday night, beating the Flyers 4-1. Thirteen teams have rallied from 3-1 deficits to win a series. Not counting 3-0 comebacks, no team has rallied from 3-1 after the second round.

''For them it was Game 5, for us it was Game 7,'' Devils forward Bobby Holik said Monday.

The series has been dominated by the road team. The Flyers were the only home winner, taking Game 2. Philadelphia is 6-1 on the road in the playoffs and only 5-4 at First Union Center. New Jersey is 4-3 at home and 6-2 while traveling.

''Subconsciously you might be a little bit more ready to play. More focused, more determined to win on the road than at home,'' Holik said. ''That's why the visiting team catches you by surprise and you get behind the 8-ball.''

Lindros, whose Game 6 role and line has not yet been determined, seemed more than willing to conform to the system if it meant getting back on the ice.

''I'm not going to be playing 18, 20, 25 minutes a game,'' he said. ''It will be a much lighter role than that and just getting back into it. I think it will work out. Every shift you gain some confidence and you get things going. ''

Neilson, Lindros' biggest supporter in the organization, has also come back to the team but not in his familiar position behind the bench. Neilson is listed as special assistant to the head coach and communicates with the bench by headset during games.

''Our team has had to deal with everything imaginable,'' Ramsay said. ''In almost 30 years, I've never seen anything quite like what's happened in the last few months around here. I've also never seen a better response anytime, anywhere from a group of individuals who all rally together to support each other.''

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