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The Philadelphia Flyers don't necessarily need a boost from Danny Briere. They just need him to fit into what they've been doing.

The star center is likely to play for the first time in nearly three months when the surging Flyers face one of their closest threats for the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference as they host the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night.

Injuries have forced Briere to miss 50 games this season and he's sat out the last 35 with a groin problem, though he returned to practice more than two weeks ago. He finally appears ready to return even though the Flyers insist they won't rush him back.

"He has been pushing pretty hard," coach John Stevens told the team's official Web site Thursday. "He did some off-ice rehab today. We are going to wait and see until tomorrow and see how he makes out at practice."

However, the Flyers (33-17-9) waived center Glen Metropolit and defenseman Ossi Vaananen on Thursday to clear salary cap space for Briere's impending return.

He has nine points in nine games this season but hasn't played since Dec. 2. Briere had a team-high 31 goals and 41 assists last season, his first with Philadelphia after signing an eight-year contract worth $52 million, and helped the Flyers reach the conference finals.

Two years earlier, he missed 32 games with an abdominal injury before returning to help Buffalo to its first playoff berth in four years.

Briere was asked earlier this week if he could provide a similar spark for the Flyers.

"Hope so," he said, smiling. "You've got to get that confidence back. You've got to get that timing back."

Philadelphia won only two games with Briere on the ice this season and certainly hasn't appeared to miss him lately, winning seven of nine while scoring 35 goals.

The hot streak has pushed the Flyers into fourth in the East with 75 points - four more than the Canadiens (32-22-7) - and very much within striking distance of New Jersey for the Atlantic Division lead.

Even if Philadelphia and Montreal make the playoffs, it remains unclear who will be starting in net because each team has split starts among two goaltenders and is still waiting for one to emerge. They're the only teams among the top 10 in the East standings which don't have a goaltender with at least 20 victories.

"We both want to play every night, we both want to get in there and lead the team," said Biron, who has made 36 starts while teammate Antero Niittymaki has 23. "Some nights, you're going to have to be supportive."

Niittymaki has been the one doing most of the supporting lately, with Biron in net for five of Philadelphia's last six games. He's won four of those starts and is coming off his 25th career shutout, 2-0 over Los Angeles on Wednesday night.

One night earlier, Niittymaki stopped 35 shots in a 4-2 win at Washington.

Biron may have the inside track to the starting job for the postseason considering he was in net for Philadelphia's run to the East finals.

The Flyers got there by beating Montreal in a five-game semifinal series as Canadiens goalie Carey Price had four mediocre starts, and more poor performances recently have the All-Star riding the bench.

Halak has won three of his last four starts and is coming off his first shutout of the season, making 34 saves in a 3-0 victory over Vancouver on Tuesday. He's likely to make a third consecutive start for Montreal considering Price has lost five straight, posting a 4.54 goals-against average.

"He's been waiting for this for a long time," Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau said of Halak. "It's unfortunate for Carey, but hopefully he can win us five, six or seven games in a row."

Halak won his only start of the season against Philadelphia, making 29 saves in a 5-2 win Dec. 18 in the most recent matchup between the teams.

Biron had lost three straight starts versus the Canadiens before winning the last time he faced them, 2-1 on Nov. 15. That's the Flyers' only victory over Montreal in the past nine regular-season meetings.

The Canadiens lost both of their playoff games at Philadelphia last year but have won five straight regular-season visits. Montreal, however, has lost 10 of 11 on the road.

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