Flyers coach John Stevens has given Danny Briere the green light to return to action tonight against the Washington Capitals at the Wachovia Center.

"He looks good, so we're pretty optimistic that we can get him in" tonight, Stevens said after yesterday's practice at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.

Briere, who reinjured his groin last week in a 5-1 loss to Calgary, was cleared by doctors to play in Tuesday's 5-2 win over his former team, Buffalo. Stevens, though, took a cautious approach and kept him out.

Against Calgary, playing in only his third game since Dec. 2, Briere said he "broke some scar tissue, which is a good thing, but some swelling came with it."

With reduced swelling and less bleeding in his groin, Briere said he felt strong after yesterday's skate. "Everything was good," he said. "I reacted really well. I think I'm good."

In 12 outings this season, Briere has posted five goals. Last year, he recorded 31 regular-season goals and scored nine times in the playoffs.

Stevens said he may have given Briere, who has undergone two surgeries this season, too much playing time in his most recent return.

"That was my mistake last time," Stevens said. "I think we tried to get him going right away, get him right in the fire. But I think this time around, we can give him less minutes than he's used to playing and build his minutes up as we move along and he gets stronger."

Said Briere: "I just want to get back out there, get as prepared as possible for the playoffs."

Biron to start. Stevens said Marty Biron, who made 27 saves in the win over Buffalo and 31 in Saturday's 4-1 triumph vs. Nashville, would get his third consecutive start tonight against the Capitals. In 41 appearances, he has a 2.77 goals-against average and 21-13-5 record.

"Marty looks confident in net," Stevens said. "He's square, he's challenging [shooters], he's keeping things in front of him. I think the overall level of his play is very good."

Stevens was asked about his plans when it comes to the goalie rotation for the remaining 17 regular-season contests. Antero Niittymaki is 15-6-5 in 28 appearances.

"[Biron] is going to get a chance to play a lot," he said. "At the same time, [Niittymaki] is going to get back in the net here in the next few days. I think it's important, with the amount of games we have, to keep both guys active."

Questionable. Riley Cote aggravated an upper-body injury in the second period against the Sabres and did not practice yesterday.

"He could play" tonight, Stevens said. "We'll see how he feels in the morning, but he could play."

Cote said he first was injured against Nashville. "I got body-checked, then had a couple of days of discomfort," he said. "I'm good to go, if [Stevens] decides to put me in."

Tough guy. Donald Brashear, the Capitals' tough guy and an ex-Flyer, is questionable to play tonight.

In Tuesday's 2-1 win at Nashville, Brashear fought Wade Belak in the first period. Belak dropped Brashear with a straight left hand. Brashear sustained a sprained knee when he fell to the ice.

"I've known Donald for a long time," Flyers forward Simon Gagne said. "I know he's one of the best fighters in the National Hockey League. It's the first time I've seen him go down in a fight like that."