At that point Lindros had appeared in four games since the concussion, playing well in the first three—he scored two goals—and miserably in the fourth. Eric, whose father and agent, Carl, had clashed with the Flyers last year over the medical treatment of Eric following a collapsed lung, sat out the game against the Coyotes and three others before seeing Kelly. On March 21 and March 22, Kelly examined Lindros in Chicago and said he would be out four to six weeks, a timetable that suggested he would return for the second round of the playoffs, if Philadelphia got that far.
Without a healthy Lindros the last two years the Flyers haven't advanced past Round 1. In 1998 he returned in the opening round after missing 18 games with his first concussion and played listlessly as Philadelphia fell to the Buffalo Sabres in five games. Last season, with Lindros sidelined because of the collapsed lung, the Flyers lost in six games to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Philly is 59-60-17-0 in games Lindros has missed in his eight-year career, one measuring stick of his value, although it measures only losses on the ice and not in the dressing room. Conversations with several Philly veterans last week painted a portrait of their former captain as an increasingly isolated player, an impression reinforced by the effusive, almost mawkish, public praise of the unprepossessing Desjardins as a superb leader who, as wing Keith Jones described him, "always puts the team ahead of himself."
"There's not a guy in here who wouldn't say Eric isn't a great guy," says Primeau, who was obtained from Carolina in the Brind'Amour trade, "but that doesn't change everything else that's gone on. We all felt the team was looking for closure on the captaincy issue."
The Flyers' next issue is goaltending. At week's end Ramsay had not formally selected his starting playoff goalie, although the process of natural selection seemed to have occurred earlier in the week. On March 28 in Ottawa, during the first game of Desjardins's captaincy, Philadelphia dominated the Senators for 50 minutes until Igor Kravchuk's 60-foot floater eluded Vanbiesbrouck, tying the score. The suddenly fragile Flyers gave up two more goals plus an empty-netter in a 5-2 loss. With Boucher in the nets in Pittsburgh last Saturday, Philly players flung themselves in front of shots with abandon during a furious last four minutes, in which Boucher made some key stops, Jaromir Jagr dinged the crossbar, and the Flyers escaped with a 3-2 victory.
Philadelphia was undermined in the playoffs against Toronto last year when Vanbiesbrouck allowed three short-side, backhand goals among the nine he gave up. (The timing and the type of goal often matters as much as how many are scored.) Boucher will start in the postseason this year not because his numbers are marginally better than Vanbiesbrouck's—a 1.97 goals-against average and a .916 save percentage compared with 2.22 and .905—but because the Flyers play more comfortably with him. When Philadelphia has scored three or more goals with Boucher in net, the team has won 16 of 20 games and earned a point in all the other matches. "The kid's gotten stronger," Recchi says. "At the start of the year in practice you could almost score on him at will. Now it's almost like you can't get one past him. There's a big upside there."
In the tabloid world of the Flyers there might even be a big upside in the busting of Lindros, who has been averaging just 1.08 points per game this season, the poorest output of his NHL career. As one Philadelphia veteran says, "I'm an optimist. So the way I see it, when Eric comes back, he'll be so angry with management that he'll try to stick it up their butts and play great."
The glass is neither half empty nor half full in fitful Philly—it's broken. In what surely are the final weeks of Lindros's career with the Flyers, the team will have to sweep up the shards on Broad Street before it can map out a Stanley Cup parade route.