The way Joffrey Lupul understood things, he was expecting to be told he could play this week.

But apparently, that was a matter of miscommunication. Lupul was told yesterday morning after meeting with doctors that he would not be allowed to play for at least another five games.

"I guess I was just not on the same page," a visibly disappointed Lupul said after spending another practice in noncontact mode. Because his MRI exam results showed that his spinal-cord contusion was healed, Lupul thought he would be cleared to play.

"I thought I would be allowed to go and I thought [it] would be two practices of contact and be ready to play, but obviously we were on a bit of a different page there," the Flyers forward said. "It's probably my fault for not clarifying it.

"The MRI was fine. What [the doctor] said was he's dealt with hundreds of these and no one has ever come back that quick. But from my standpoint, if the MRI is clear, the MRI is clear, but he wants to err on the side of caution.

"I can't be too upset with that, right? I mean, it's probably better in the long run. Make sure I'm playing for this team in the playoffs and make sure it's something that doesn't bother me the rest of my career."

Lupul has been out of the lineup since Jan. 5, when he was inadvertently driven to the ice backward by defenseman Derian Hatcher, who was throwing an open-ice hit on Toronto's Alex Steen but managed to take out Lupul instead.

Steen ducked most of the hit and Hatcher went over the top of the Maple Leafs player and landed on Lupul, who was skating directly behind the two. Lupul was knocked to the ice headfirst, and then Hatcher landed on him. Lupul suffered a concussion and a spinal-cord contusion in the collision.

Right after Lupul was injured, the Flyers said he would be at least 3 weeks off the ice, and probably more.

He passed his concussion baseline test last Friday and expected to be cleared for full participation yesterday.

His first day of full contact will not come until Friday. He will meet again with doctors on Feb. 14 and he will not be cleared before then.

Coach John Stevens said Lupul most likely would travel to Atlanta yesterday to start getting him back into the feeling of being part of a team again. The Flyers meet the Thrashers tonight.

"I think it's important that he is with the team now as much as possible even if it's a short practice, a game-day practice, that we have him involved," Stevens said.

"That's the worst thing about being injured - is being away from the team. You're used to being with 20 guys all the time and all of a sudden you have all this time by yourself. It's hard.

"The injury he has to his spinal cord, [doctors] want to make sure he has ample time to recover, no residual effects, and he hasn't had any. But they wanted him to be fully recovered before they put him back, and they had a timeline and the doctor is very persistent that he did not want him to play prior to that."

Niittymaki to start

Antero Niittymaki will be in net tonight against Atlanta, which is a bit of a surprise considering Marty Biron is coming off a shutout over Anaheim on Saturday.

Antero Niittymaki will be in net tonight against Atlanta, which is a bit of a surprise considering Marty Biron is coming off a shutout over Anaheim on Saturday.

However, the Flyers play back-to-back, tonight in Atlanta and tomorrow at home against Washington, and Niittymaki is 6-0 with a 1.83 goals-against average in his career against Atlanta. Biron will play against Washington. *