Pronger confident he'll play in playoffs

VOORHEES, N.J. (AP) - Chris Pronger was in typical form, smiling, joking and giving vague answers.

A hand injury that has sidelined the Philadelphia Flyers' defenseman since March 8 hasn't affected his mood. Pronger still keeps it light, even with the playoffs approaching.

Is Pronger confident he'll play against the Buffalo Sabres in the first round?

"Very," he said Tuesday.

Will he play Game 1?

"I guess you'll have to wait and find out," he said.

Pronger skated and held a stick before practice, but didn't take any shots. He suggested he might try on Wednesday.

"Every day is a new day," he said. "Some days, you have setbacks. Some days, you take a step forward."

Pronger, a former NHL MVP, injured his right hand in late February. He played a couple games and then had surgery in mid-March. He also missed time with a foot injury and was limited to just 50 games this season. The Flyers were 16-9-7 without him.

The defending Eastern Conference champions won the Atlantic Division and earned the No. 2 seed. They'll host the Sabres in the series opener on Thursday night.

"Certainly you'd like to have your pieces in there," coach Peter Laviolette said. "At this point, today in practice, he's not there, so we prepare and plan to play Buffalo with the guys on the ice and that changes daily. We have a lot of confidence. We dealt with a lot of injuries last year and this year. Most teams do."

Pronger's status is the main topic surrounding the Flyers and his teammates are constantly questioned about it. Forward Danny Briere told a Buffalo radio station Tuesday morning that he didn't expect Pronger to play against the Sabres.

Briere, who played for the Sabres from 2003-07, changed his story when he talked to Philadelphia reporters.

"I was joking around with them," he said. "I have no clue."

Pronger, a five-time All-Star, had four goals and 21 assists for 25 points. He's an integral part of the team's defense and plays a key role on special teams.

General manager Paul Holmgren isn't concerned about putting Pronger on the ice with little practice time.

"He's played (1,154) games in the NHL or something like that and (170) playoff games," Holmgren said. "I give him the benefit of the doubt that he'll be fine in that regard."

Other defensemen are aware they have to pick up the slack if Pronger isn't ready.

"You can't replace a guy like Chris Pronger with one person," Matt Carle said, "but as a defense corps, we all have to step up our game. And I think we've done that."