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Flyers' Briere to play two games with Phantoms

Flyers center Danny Briere, who has not played since Dec. 2 because of a groin injury, will return to the ice tonight - in an AHL  game.

Flyers center

Danny Briere,

who has not played since Dec. 2 because of a groin injury, will return to the ice tonight - in an AHL  game.

The Flyers announced yesterday that Briere would be loaned to the club's AHL affiliate, the Phantoms, for a two-game conditioning stint.

"We are doing this just to make sure everything is OK with Danny," general manager Paul Holmgren said. "This will give him the opportunity to play in some games prior to rejoining the Flyers. He will play two games with the Phantoms on Wednesday and Friday. He was absolutely receptive to this."

The Phantoms will host the Worcester Sharks tonight and  the Lowell Devils on Friday. Both Spectrum games will start at 7:05 p.m.

Worcester features former NHL star Claude Lemieux, the 43-year-old winger who hopes to play for the San Jose Sharks later in the season.

Because of abdominal and groin injuries, Briere has played in only nine games this season; he has five goals and four assists. He tried to return too soon and was reinjured twice this season.

Briere, who had 31 goals and 41 assists last season, said he was "excited to get back and start playing and see where I stand."

The level of play in the AHL "is not far from the NHL, so it'll be a good test," said Briere, who last played in the AHL during the 2000-01 season. "Mentally, this is the biggest hurdle I've had to overcome: to see if I can play."

Briere, 31, has been practicing with the Flyers and says he feels close to 100 percent. "But practice isn't the same as a game," he said.

With Briere still sidelined, the Flyers can delay making a decision on whether to send rookie defenseman Luca Sbisa back to juniors. That's one of the options being considered for the team to get under the $56.7 million salary cap when Briere returns. It appears, however, that the Flyers can be under the cap if they put Jon Kalinski and Josh Gratton on the long-term injured list and send two other players to the Phantoms.

If they kept Sbisa, he would be one of seven defensemen, with one sitting out each game.

The question facing Holmgren: If he keeps Sbisa, will the young defenseman get enough playing time to stay sharp and continue to develop his game?

Sbisa will turn 19 on Jan. 30.



Lasse Kukkonen


Claude Giroux

(concussion) were the Flyers' scratches last night. . . . The Flyers' last seven opponents this month - Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay (twice), Florida (twice), Atlanta and St. Louis - would not qualify for the playoffs if the season ended today. . . . Entering last night, the Flyers had a 131-73-32-3 all-time record against the Penguins in the regular season. . . . In the last 10 games, defenseman

Danny Syvret

is the Phantoms' leading scorer with seven assists, but is also a minus-9.