Give Chris Pronger this much. He's a lot funnier than Chase Utley.

Otherwise, the awkward exchanges between the media and the injured player - not to mention the media and the official team spokesmen - feel eerily similar. Two months ago, it seemed like minor news that Utley was sitting out workouts with soreness in his knee. Now the season is two weeks old and his return is as uncertain as ever.

Just over a month ago, Pronger missed a couple of games. Then it was revealed that he needed surgery to repair a broken bone in his right hand. He all but disappeared for the final month of the regular season, and so did the team's focus and consistency. All along, the common wisdom was that Pronger would be back for the playoffs.

Well, the playoffs begin Thursday night. Two days before the puck drops against Buffalo, Pronger, coach Peter Laviolette, and general manager Paul Holmgren were by turns vague, cryptic, misleading, unforthcoming, and amusingly sarcastic.

That latter bit came from Pronger, of course. Asked what his "pain level" was on a scale of 1 to 10, his eyes widened in delight. This is not a man who can pass up a straight line.

"Ten right now, because I'm talking to you," Pronger cracked.

None of this should be surprising in a sport in which a concussion can be announced, with a straight face, as an "upper-body injury." The problem, as it was with the Phillies, is that all this misdirection and obfuscation creates a vacuum that is naturally filled with speculation and assumptions - much of which is wrong.

In that spirit, then, a guess: Pronger will be in the lineup for Game 1 of this first-round series. If not, then he will almost certainly return for the bulk of it.

Pronger revealed that he had been skating regularly for more than a week. He was working out "undercover," as he put it - that is, out of view of the reporters who cover the team. While he hasn't been using a stick or shooting pucks, that shouldn't be viewed as a sign that he can't return soon.