PHILADELPHIA -- With the Philadelphia Flyers on the brink of elimination from the Eastern Conference Semifinals, forward Simon Gagne was a welcome sight at the team's practice facility Thursday.
Gagne, who had two screws surgically implanted April 23 after breaking the big toe on his right foot when he blocked a shot one day earlier in Game 4 of the first round against the New Jersey Devils, was supposed to have an MRI on Friday to check on the healing. But with the team's season on the line, and Gagne feeling good enough to go, there's a good chance he could return for Game 4 Friday (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN, RDS) against the Boston Bruins. The Flyers trail the best-of-seven series, 3-0.
"It's good to be back, or at least to be able to skate again," Gagne said after his first full practice with the team since April 22. "You could do a lot upstairs with working out, biking and lifting weights, but there's no better way to get back into shape then skating.
"I want to get in soon, hopefully. That's why I'm pushing myself right now to go on the ice earlier than maybe I was supposed to. We're up against the wall right now and we have no choice. We have to win one game at a time and time is closing in on us." -- Simon Gagne
Gagne, who had been part of one of the team's most productive and energetic lines this season alongside center Mike Richards and Daniel Carcillo, was forced to leave Game 4 against the Devils with 7:51 remaining in the second period after taking a Brian Rolston slap shot off his right foot. He had 2 assists in four games against the Devils.
Knowing the hole his team is in, it didn't surprise coach Peter Laviolette all that much to see Gagne back on the ice.
"It's speculation on whether he's going to play, but when he gets back, he does a lot of things for us," Laviolette said. "He plays top-line minutes, plays the power play and kills penalties and plays against the other team's best players. So when you take a guy like that out of the lineup, you certainly welcome them back when they're able to rejoin the team."
Gagne admitted he no longer needed the assistance of crutches over the weekend. He then started walking with a protective boot and "felt good." When the swelling subsided, he was able to fit his foot in a skate and given the go-ahead to begin skating Thursday. His right skate is equipped with padding above the surgically repaired area.
"(The padding) feels great," he said. "I looked bad on some guys (at Thursday's practice), but felt nothing on my skate so maybe it's something I'll start wearing for the playoffs and for next season, too.
"It's going to be a process both physically and mentally, but it's getting better every day. I'm not going to make a decision until after meeting with doctors."
Laviolette thought Gagne looked pretty good.
"He didn't really look rusty; he's a pretty smooth guy when it comes to the puck and the drills on the ice," Laviolette said. "I think when a player gets away from the game, your conditioning and timing of the game are off more than anything else. But his skating and passing looked good, as did his shooting."
Flyers goalie Brian Boucher was surprised to see Gagne, who was expected to be sidelined three weeks, back at practice so soon.
"It's big," Boucher said. "Obviously, he's a big part of this hockey team and to get a guy like him back is a big boost. Hopefully things went well today and we'll see how it goes. I was surprised to see him out there. I didn't know he was coming along that quickly, so I'm pleasantly surprised."
Gagne feels he shouldn't be considered a savior if he is given clearance to play in Game 4. But he'll no doubt provide a needed spark and be a sniper the Bruins would have to account for.
"It's not like we're getting outplayed by Boston," Gagne said. "I think the chances were very good for us. We didn't get those lucky bounces that we got versus Jersey. It doesn't matter what person you have in your lineup, although you'd sure rather have a full lineup. We're a team and have played together the whole season and we've had success with that team. Injuries are part of the playoffs and it's the same on their side.
"To get some guys out of the lineup, you need to deal with it, you need to find a way and play through it and I think the guys are doing a great job. Hopefully, if we can get some guys back from injuries, that'll be a plus for us."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale