SUNRISE, Fla. _ The Flyers' grasp on first place in the Eastern Conference isn't as tight after Monday's stunning news: Defenseman Chris Pronger will have surgery on his right hand on Tuesday and will miss three to four weeks, the club announced.
"Obviously, he's a big piece, but we can't use it as an excuse," center Danny Briere said.
In the East, the Flyers are just one point ahead of second-place Washington, which has won eight straight. Pittsburgh, which received encouraging news Monday when Sidney Crosby skated for the first time since suffering a concussion in early January, is only three points behind in the East and Atlantic Division.
The Flyers have held the East's top spot since Jan. 8.
Pronger had a CAT scan on his hand on Sunday and a small fracture was discovered, general manager Paul Holmgren said. “Our doctors believe surgery is the best route to take with the injury," he said.
Surgeon Tom Graham will perform the operation in Cleveland.
On Saturday night, Holmgren said some tests, including an MRI, were performed on Pronger's hand and were negative. But he continued to have pain and had another test performed on Sunday
In a conference call with reporters on Monday, Holmgren said the CAT scan was the "most thorough" test and that it showed the break. He said the test was done "for peace of mind."
Holmgren also revealed that Pronger may have done damage to the hand when he hit it on the boards against Edmonton last Tuesday _ his fouth game after returning from the original injury.
"Whether that made it worse, or maybe even caused the little break, we don't know," Holmgren said, adding that he didn't think Pronger returned to the lineup too soon after first hurting his hand.
The 36-year-old defenseman suffered the injury blocking a shot against the Islanders on Feb. 24. He missed one game, then returned and played in four contests.
Earlier Monday, Pronger skated, but did not shoot the puck during a practice in Florida and referred questions Holmgren.
Pronger has appeared in 50 games this season, recording four goals and 21 assists . He is a plus-7 on the season and leads the Flyers in average time on ice per game (22:09).
The Flyers are 11-5-2 without Pronger in the lineup; they are 31-14-5 with him.
Holmgren said Erik Gustafsson, who has been playing for the Phantoms, will join the team. He played well in his only appearance with the Flyers.
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The Flyers are trying to rebound from their worst late-game collapse since 1987.
On Saturday, the Flyers lost for the first time in 24 years after carrying at least a three-goal lead into the third period, dropping a 5-4 overtime decision to visiting Atlanta.
“I’m over it. I’m past it. I’m looking forward to” Tuesday’s game against Florida, coach Peter Laviolette said after Monday’s practice.
Putting that embarrassing defeat behind them, is “not that difficult,” defenseman Sean O’Donnell said. “You need to have a short memory in this game, whether it’s a big win or a big loss. Obviously, you don’t want it to happen, but we have a game to worry about (Tuesday), so that’s where our focus needs to be.”
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Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter at www.twitter.com/BroadStBull.
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