Flyers in dire need of defensive help

Injuries limiting available players

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Down and running out of defensemen.

That was the condition of the Flyers yesterday as they prepared to try to get back into the Eastern Conference finals tonight in the Wachovia Center.

Defenseman Braydon Coburn, who sustained a severe laceration of his left eye that required more than 50 stitches to close Sunday night in the Flyers' 4-2 loss in Pittsburgh, will need a miracle to be ready to play in Game 3.

Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said yesterday that Coburn's official availability is listed as "doubtful," but pending the results of an examination with an ophthalmologist that was scheduled for yesterday afternoon, and provided the swelling around his eye subsides, he could play in Game 4 Thursday.

The Penguins lead the series, 2-0.

"We're still waiting to hear word on how his eye actually is," Holmgren said. "Right now, it's swollen shut. There are no fractures and he's doing better. We have no reason to think that there's anything wrong with the eye itself."

The loss of Coburn compounds the already difficult job of playing without defenseman Kimmo Timonen, who was lost for the rest of the season with a blood clot in his left ankle on the eve of the conference final. Timonen and Coburn were the Flyers' best shutdown pair, and not having either available for a critical Game 3 makes the Flyers' challenge of getting back into the series that much more difficult.

Ryan Parent, the rookie defenseman acquired from Nashville in the Peter Forsberg trade last year and called up late in the season, most likely will take Coburn's spot on the bench. The young defenseman is a smooth, fast skater and can make quick breakout passes, but he has not played since Game 1 of the opening playoff series against Washington.

Coburn was struck by a puck that was shot by the Penguins' Sergei Gonchar and then deflected up into his face by Evgeni Malkin early in the first period.

Coburn fell to the ice and lost a lot of blood. The cut needed extensive stitching to close. According to Holmgren, Coburn had a rough time on the flight home, was dizzy and vomiting, but Holmgren said he is not believed to have suffered a concussion.

"He had no loss of consciousness. At the time he was cognizant and aware when [Flyers trainer Jim McCrossin] got to him," Holmgren said. "He did have some issues on the plane ... but I think everybody thinks it was due to loss of blood. He lost a lot of blood from that injury.

"Everything checks out; we're just waiting to hear from the ophthalmologist on the actual eye itself, whether there's any issues there. We don't suspect there is, we just want to get it checked out.

"Our doctors who were at the game thought he was fine, but we just wanted him to get checked out by an actual ophthalmologist. Assuming there are no issues there, we'll just wait for the swelling to go down."

With Coburn out, Derian Hatcher becomes the Flyers' top defensive defenseman. Hatcher played nearly 29 minutes Sunday; yesterday he said he felt fine.

"Surprisingly I don't feel that bad," Hatcher said. "I thought I would be a little more sore but I don't feel that bad and we'll all do what we have to back there."

Hatcher has been around hockey injuries a lot in his 16-year NHL career, so it was with veteran empathy that he got a small chuckle out of Coburn's condition.

"I talked to him after the game and I was messing around with him a little bit," Hatcher said. "It seems like he's going to be alrightall right, and that's why I'm laughing and smiling."


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