Forwards Jeff Carter (broken foot) and Ian Laperriere (brain contusion) both are skating again, and that means both are likely to return to the Philadelphia Flyers' lineup soon.
Forget general manager Paul Holmgren saying it was "a stretch" to think Carter could play again this series due to conditioning after missing nearly a month. In the NHL, there is no such thing as "a stretch" when it comes to injuries. You're either medically cleared or you're not.
That's why Simon Gagne missed just two and a half weeks with a broken foot. That's why Blair Betts and Claude Giroux are playing despite painful shoulder injuries, the extent of which has been rumored but, of course, not confirmed by the club. That's why Scott Hartnell limped off the ice in agony after blocking a shot during one of the games against Boston, yet did not even miss a shift.
As Chris Pronger said, if you're playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs, you're probably playing hurt.
So I would be shocked if this series goes seven games and Carter does not play. Once he's medically cleared for full contact -- which Laperriere already has been -- it won't be more than a few days before Carter is on the ice against the Montreal Canadiens.
Then, the question becomes what to do with him.
Laperriere has an obvious spot -- his position on the checking line with Blair Betts and Darroll Powe has been filled ably but not spectacularly by Andreas Nodl, who spent most of the season in the minors. Nobody will question scratching Nodl.
But Carter's replacement, Ville Leino, has been playing some excellent hockey. He has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in his last seven games. He has been part of arguably the Flyers' best line with Danny Briere and Scott Hartnell. I don't know how you take Leino out of the lineup at this point.
So where else to put Carter?
On paper, there are two obvious solutions: Bump Dan Carcillo from the top line with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, or bump Arron Asham from the third line with Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk. Carcillo or Asham would move to the checking line, and Darroll Powe would be scratched.
But games are not played on paper. If they were, Montreal would not have beaten the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins, then lost 6-0 to the Flyers.
Carcillo and Asham are important parts of those lines. They create havoc in the corners and in front of the goalie with their physical play. They set up the more skilled players on their lines. Replacing one of them with Carter creates a line like the ones Montreal goalie Jaroslav Halak shut down in the first two rounds.
Overall, you don't fix what's not broken, and the Flyers' top three forward lines are far from broken.
But I have another solution.
Put Carter on the checking line in place of Powe. He's a good defensive forward, so that line still will serve its purpose. Also, that line typically plays the fewest minutes, so Carter would be able to ease back into things while he gets his conditioning back. And as a bonus, you get some more goal-scoring potential on that line.
Carter also could play on the power play, when it's not as crucial to have grinders in there, but rather to have as much offensive firepower as possible.
Will coach Peter Laviolette consider this option? Time will tell. It's hard to fathom that getting your leading goal-scorer back in the lineup could be a problem, but breaking up three lines that are playing at such a high level makes it just that.