Briere, Gagne return; Ross demoted

    Veteran forwards Danny Briere and Simon Gagne returned to the Flyers' practice Monday, bringing a sense of optimism to a club that has lost five of its last six games and has struggled offensively.

     Briere has missed the last three games _ two on a league-mandated suspension, one because of the flu _ while Gagne has missed about a month after undergoing hernia and abdominal surgery.

    Briere, who has 10 goals in just 17 games, will return to the lineup Thursday against visiting Vancouver.

    Gagne said he hopes to return in two weeks; GM Paul Holmgren said three weeks is a more realistic goal.

    Gagne felt comfortable while skating with the team for the first time since his Nov. 2 surgery.

    “I see the difference right away. When I’m skating I feel all of my muscles firing like they should be,” he said after Monday's practice in Voorhees. “I’m not using different muscles that should not be firing. Right now, I feel like everything is in place and everything is in balance. I feel strong, and I don’t have the pain I had before.”

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      Jared Ross, the diminutive center who suffered a head injury when he absorbed an illegal hit last week, said he felt fine during practice Monday. A few hours later, he was demoted to the AHL Adirondack Phantoms.

    By the way, the Phantoms, who spent the previous 13 years in Philly, will return Friday for one game as they face Norfolk at the Wachovia Center at 7 p.m.

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      Is there a goalie controversy brewing?

     Well, coach John Stevens would not commit to his goalie for Thursday. Brian Boucher is making Stevens'  decision a difficult one. Ray Emery was signed in the off-season to be the No. 1 goalie, but he has struggled lately _ a 4.71 goals-against average in his last four starts _ while Boucher has excelled.

    Boucher has a 1.45 GAA in his last four appearances.

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     Even though it happened last Friday against Buffalo, the Flyers are still talking about Ian Laperrierre’s remarkable resiliency. The winger was hit in the mouth late in the first period, but returned to play in the third period despite losing seven teeth and getting 50 to 100 stitches.
    “It’s one of the most courageous things I’ve ever seen in my life _ hockey or anything _ because he’s cut up, he’s hurting and he comes back with his lip hanging over his toes and he finishes the game and plays hard,” rookie James van Riemsdyk said. “I saw him go into corners and finish checks right after he takes one.”
    Van Riemsdyk said there are “a lot of guys on the team that have heart, but Lappy definitely tops them all.”