At the end of the Flyers’ morning skate Sunday at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, the players circled around their teammate, Oskar Lindblom, who was about to lead the stretching exercises.
His teammates furiously banged their sticks on the ice to show their appreciation for Lindblom, who has missed most of the season because of a rare bone cancer.
“As coaches, we were almost in tears,” coach Alain Vigneault said after a practice to prepare the Flyers for Sunday night’s playoff game against Montreal.
It was another milestone for Lindblom as he tries to work his way back into the lineup after a grueling battle with Ewing’s sarcoma. He received his last chemotherapy treatment early last month at the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital, where he reportedly had portions of a rib removed.
Lindblom, in a Zoom call with reporters Sunday afternoon, said he always believed he would return and be with his teammates.
“It was my goal to get back to the team and get back to life,” he said. “... There haven’t been any thoughts about not playing again.”
Lindblom, who turned 24 on Saturday, participated in the Flyers’ morning skate for the first time since his coronavirus quarantine ended. He had traveled from his home in Sweden to Toronto, the Eastern Conference’s hub city.
“I felt this itch in my body because I wanted to get back to the team and start skating again,” he said.
He said it was important for him to be with his teammates during the playoffs.
“Just to feel like I’m getting back and get that energy from all the guys helps a lot,” he said. ”I started working out as normal and skating as normal. Being around the boys is the best thing for me now and I feel great.”
» READ MORE: Timeline of Oskar Lindblom’s season
The left winger won’t play for at least a couple of weeks, but he will practice with the team and, if all goes well and the team is still competing in the playoffs, get back into the lineup in September.
Lindblom didn’t want to project when he would return to the lineup. He skated a bit with his old Swedish Hockey League team before heading to Toronto.
“I’m not going to stress anything here,” Lindblom said. “Just take it slow and see what happens.”
Vigneault said it would “definitely” take Lindblom at least a couple of weeks.
“Obviously, we’re going to talk to him every day and see how he feels,” the coach said.
Practice on Sunday morning “was all about Oskar and the excitement to have him back with our group,” Vigneault said.
At the time he was diagnosed in December, Lindblom was tied for the team lead with 11 goals.
“I’m hoping when he does come back and play that he will give us what he was doing before, which was contributing at both ends of the rink,” Vigneault said. “Time frame is tough to say.”
Lindblom spent eight days in Toronto’s bubble, during which he stayed in his hotel room.
Getting stronger, Lindblom said, is critical if he is going to return to the lineup.
“I don’t want to be put out there if I’m not going to help the team or put myself in a tough spot,” he said. “As long as I feel ready and my body is strong enough, I will put myself out there, but otherwise, I will keep practicing and work myself up.“
“He wants to play,” said Vigneault, whose team entered Sunday in a 1-1 series deadlock with Montreal in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals. “He’s going to get himself in shape and ready to play. We’ve got to do our part and continue playing.”
Lindblom said he has talked with Mario Lemieux, one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ owners, and some other cancer survivors who “reached out to me,” and that it “helped me out, too.” He added he has been in contact with his teammates during his entire medical ordeal.