If the Flyers are to have any chance to complete the final three games of their eight-game road trip at .500 or better, they're going to need a healthy Simon Gagne in the lineup.
Gagne is expected back on the ice tonight at Madison Square Garden as the Flyers meet the Rangers. He was given medical clearance to practice yesterday after passing a baseline exam Saturday.
"I hope so," Gagne said about playing. "I feel good, and if I feel good, I have a chance. It's been a while. I was sitting at home watching TV, and that doesn't help keep you in shape. I have to get the game shape back. It might take me two, three games to get it back."
Gagne was clipped on the chin in a legal hit Oct. 24 in Florida by Jay Bouwmeester. Gagne suffered dizziness and vision problems and failed two baseline tests, which show whether a player's reflexes are impaired as the result of a concussion.
The Flyers are 2-3 on the road trip, which ends Thursday night against the Devils in their new arena in Newark, N.J.
John Stevens' club is making its first trip to the Garden since last March 21, when Todd Fedoruk was injured in the face in the opening minute of play after a fight with Colton Orr. That fight left both teams shaken as Fedoruk suffered a concussion and a knee injury.
Look for Riley Cote and Orr to square off tonight. And look for a hard, physical, all-around game from the Rangers.
"I've been here eight years, and every game we play against the Rangers, it doesn't matter what type of team we have or they have, it's always a battle," Gagne said. "It's a fun place to play. A lot of guys like to play there. They've got a good team. We've got a good team. It's a division matchup. After the game we'll know a little more about our team.
"The Rangers were picked as the team at the top of the division before the season, and they might have the team to do it. They might have started slow, but they are starting to become better."
Stevens said the final decision on Gagne's status will be made after today's morning skate.
"Gags passed his test and everything, but he's been off the ice an extended period of time, and we have to be careful," Stevens said. "He's skated on his own. He's been off for  days and coming back with three [games] in four nights is a bit of a concern. We have to be confident he is up to speed physically and ready to play."
Danny Briere has centered five line combinations during Gagne's absence.
"It's still early, I'm new here, and we haven't had a lot of time to build chemistry with anybody," Briere said. "We're trying to find the right combinations. You can see here and there duos forming . . . with Simon going down we had to look.
"I thought it went well with many of the other players, but when you are losing games, John likes to switch lines. So I ended up playing with a lot of guys. It's not a problem but at the same time, I'm happy Simon is back."
Look for Gagne's minutes to be short if he plays. . . . Derian Hatcher (right knee) is walking without pain and not limping following last week's surgery. "They want the knee to really settle down," he said. "After a couple of weeks, we'll be able to tell how it's really doing. But it feels great. There's no swelling in there. It's unbelievable. I feel great," he said. Hatcher hopes to return in less than four weeks. . . . Stevens did not say which forward will come out of the lineup. Scott Hartnell was the extra winger on Jeff Carter's line with Sami Kapanen and Scottie Upshall. Hartnell remains in the lineup somewhere, Stevens said.