Johnsson could lend a hand to Philly soon

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:33 PM ET


 With the exceptions of Alexei Zhamnov and Robert Esche, Kim Johnsson arguably has garnered more ink and air time in the media recently than any other Philadelphia Flyer.

 Not bad for a guy who has yet to play in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final against the Maple Leafs.

 Before suffering a hairline fracture in his right hand, Johnsson was described as "dominant" by Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock during Philadelphia's first-round elimination of the New Jersey Devils.

 Now comes word that the Flyers expect Johnsson to make his first appearance in the Toronto series either for Game 3 tonight or Game 4 on Friday.

 Given the barrage of Johnsson-related questions fired at Hitchcock since the series started, it was nice for the coach to provide a more candid answer than "we'll see" when asked about the status of his prized young defenceman yesterday.

 "He was almost 50% better than he was (Monday) as far as (stickhandling)," Hitchcock told reporters after practice in Voorhees, N.J. "We still haven't tested him on shooting."

 Johnsson will get that chance at today's morning skate.

 "He's now a player in the overall scheme of things, and if he does not (play tonight) then likely Game 4," Hitchcock said.

 "I always felt Kim Johnsson at 80% is better than 80% of the rest of the league. His legs and ability to move the puck is a detriment to other teams."

 Not many teams could survive -- let alone win -- the first two games of a post-season series without their top two defencemen. Somehow, the Flyers managed to accomplish just that by overcoming the absence of both Johnsson and former captain Eric Desjardins, who is out for the entire playoffs because of a fractured arm.

 Johnsson took part in practice yesterday, skipping only the shooting drills.

 "It's getting there," Johnsson said, adding that the swelling in his hand is subsiding.

 Whenever Johnsson returns, Sami Kapanen will shift to his familiar position on the wing.

 While Kapanen's stellar play has been a surprise, Hitchcock said his absence up front has been noticeable.

 "Kappy is our best forechecking player because his speed can create turnovers," Hitchcock said.


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