After big hit, Umberger may be ready to play - The Buffalo News

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After big hit, Umberger may be ready to play

Anyone who saw R.J. Umberger lying on the ice staring blankly at the ceiling of HSBC Arena -- and what hockey fan didn't see it considering it was on the sports highlight shows every hour -- figured the season was over for the Philadelphia Flyers rookie.

Umberger said Sunday he didn't even think his game was over.

"I got my wits back real quick," said Umberger, who was knocked woozy Saturday on an all-time check delivered by Buffalo defenseman Brian Campbell. "I lost a little bit of quick memory, but otherwise I felt fine. I wanted to go back out last night, but they wouldn't let me."

In a remarkable, resilient turn, there's a chance Umberger could be in the lineup tonight when the Sabres host Game Two of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal. The Flyers said Umberger passed his neurological checkup. The only problem he had Sunday was a stiff neck caused when Campbell's cleanly placed shoulder blindsided Umberger's jaw in overtime.

"His neck's a little bit stiff right now, but other than that he feels pretty good," Flyers coach Ken Hitchcock said from the lobby of the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga. "If his neck responds to the treatment like we think it will be, then he'll be available for us.

"Just for a young guy to get up and be able to even be available for selection possibly is good news for us."

Umberger joined people from both teams in saying the hit was clean. It also won't be forgotten, though the Flyers said trying to win the playoff series is more important than exacting revenge.

"Retaliation and all that stuff, it doesn't have any place," Hitchcock said. "If the hit's there you take it, and you take it big-time."

***

Campbell's connection, the league-wide magnitude of which comes around every decade or so, became the showpiece moment of Game One. But the 190-pounder wasn't the only Sabre out to prove that the larger Flyers may not have the big edge in physical play they expected.

The stats showed a 43-27 hit advantage for Buffalo. Sabres forwards Mike Grier and Paul Gaustad led the charts with seven apiece, and Ales Kotalik was next with five.

"We knew that they were going to try to use their size," Gaustad said Sunday, "but I thought we matched it and played well against it."

Kotalik averaged 0.9 hits per game during the regular season, but after getting leveled along the boards early he took a harder-hitting approach. It also allowed him to garner more flow offensively.

"I couldn't find my hands for a while, so I was trying to get myself in the game in a more physical sense than I'm used to," Kotalik said. "That's what you've got to do when you get in a game situation like that."

The Sabres, widely thought to be speedier but not as fierce as the Flyers, seem eager to prove they can stand up for themselves.

"It's probably going to get even more physical," Grier said. "If that's the way it is, that's fine by me."

***

The teams used different approaches on how to spend their Sunday.

The Flyers took the day off and conducted afternoon interviews in the lobby of their hotel, with some players holding shopping bags from the neighboring Walden Galleria Mall. The Sabres met at the Amherst Pepsi Center in the morning and had a short practice.

"It wasn't very hard," Sabres co-captain Daniel Briere said. "It was just to keep the timing and make sure we're ready to go."

***

Hitchcock hinted there will be lineup changes for the Flyers but refused to divulge more. It wouldn't be a surprise if Donald Brashear came out, considering the tough guy played less than 4 1/2 minutes.

The Flyers received 13 shots from their line of Peter Forsberg, Mike Knuble and Simon Gagne, but the other nine forwards combined for only 13.

"They've got a challenge facing them to step up," Hitchcock said.

e-mail: jvogl@buffnews.com

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