O Pronger, where art thou?

It is the question the Flyers will be asking themselves all offseason if Chris Pronger, their most intimidating player, does not swoop in from the injured list and lead the team to two wins against the Buffalo Sabres.

Maybe the Flyers would be facing Easter elimination even if the 6-foot-6 defenseman had been available for the whole series. Maybe the Sabres would have been just as chippy, just as aggressive, with Pronger's sharp tongue and sharper elbows policing the ice. Maybe.

There are probably a hundred factors at play, but there's no denying this: Since Pronger's last game, on March 8, the Flyers have played 21 hockey games.

They have won eight. They have lost 13. Along the way, they lost their grip on the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, misplaced their mojo, and got pushed to the brink of playoff elimination.

Maybe Pronger's absence was just coincidental. And maybe Brian Boucher played like Patrick Roy on Friday night.

(Aside: It has to be Boucher for Game 6. Has to be.)

It doesn't help that the original three-to-four-week timetable for Pronger's recovery from surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand made it seem certain he would be back for the playoffs. This is hockey. Players get their limbs super-glued back on to play for the Stanley Cup. Throughout this first-round series, it was part of the running story line: Would Pronger be back for Game 1? Game 2? How about Game 3 or 4?

It hasn't helped matters that general manager Paul Holmgren and coach Peter Laviolette treat injuries as if they are some kind of state secret. All that posturing and mumbling and declining to comment really has snookered the Sabres. They're so confused and uncertain about Pronger's status, they can barely stop knocking Flyers around like Mites on Ice.

All the Jason Bourne nonsense has done is create an atmosphere of uncertainty and unfulfilled expectation in the Flyers and their fans. Sure, the players have a better handle on Pronger's status than the public or the media do, but the constant speculation about Pronger's return has to be unsettling.