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Flyers right-winger Joffrey Lupul expects to return to lineup early

VOORHEES, N.J. - Philadelphia Flyers right-winger Joffrey Lupul has been cleared to play against the New York Rangers on Saturday, five days earlier than expected.

Lupul has been sidelined since Jan. 5 with a spinal cord contusion. He suffered the injury in a collision with teammate Derian Hatcher at Toronto.

The 24-year-old passed an MRI exam last week, but he was told on Monday to wait until Feb. 14 for precautionary reasons. Lupul pressed the issue and finally was given the OK to resume play from Dr. William Welch, a neurosurgeon at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia.

"Joffrey's been champing at the bit," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "The doctors were cautious, but we asked, 'What's the difference between now and three or four days from now?"'

Lupul, who has 35 points (16-19) in 39 games, is expected to play on a line with Mike Richards and Simon Gagne.

Lupul said after Friday's practice that he was surprised.

"Everyone knew I wanted to play, felt well enough to play. If you're well enough to play, you should be playing," Lupul said. "I guess the doctor had a change of heart."

Coach John Stevens said he was glad to hear the news, especially because Lupul can fill in for the recently injured Scottie Upshall, who is out with a sprained ankle.

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