Downie returns; Flyers can clinch playoff spot

Flyers forward Steve Downie. (Al Bello/Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. _ Winger Steve Downie will return to the lineup Tuesday night and try to help the Flyers defeat Florida and clinch a playoff spot.

"It's a great opportunity for the hockey team tonight," coach Craig Berube said after the morning skate at the BB&T Center in South Florida.

"We want to make sure we get a win tonight, but I think we need to focus more on how we play," said center Claude Giroux, who is goal-less in his last five games. "After tonight's game, we want to be a better team than we are this morning."

Vinny Lecavalier said the Flyers' focus is to "catch the teams in front of you."

They are two points behind the second-place Rangers in the Metropolitan Division; the Flyers have four games left _ one more than New York.

"I think we're in a great position to make the playoffs, and that's not our only goal tonight _ to clinch. We want to get the two points, but like I said, we want to catch the teams ahead of us," Lecavalier said."We have to finish strong."

After a 1-7 start, the Flyers have gone 39-22-9.

"We've been through a very tough start, and a lot of people didn't believe in us, but I think we beleive in each other in the room," Lecavalier said. "There's a lot of character; we never stopped even when we were 1-7. I still thought we were playing hard, but we weren't really in sync on the ice, and when we started playing better as a team, the results got there."

Downie, who has missed the last eight games with a head injury, will replace the suspended Zac Rinaldo; he will play on the third line with Sean Couturier and Matt Read.

"It's definitely exciting to be back in the groove of things," said Downie, who, when healthy, has played primarily on a line with Couturier and Read. "...It might take a couple shifts to get the legs going, but hopefully the timing is there."

In 60 games, Downie has four goals, 24 points, 106 penalty minutes, and a plus-3 rating.

"I feel good now and I'm ready to go," he said. "I'm looking forward, not backwards here."

Rinaldo had been playing on the third line the previous two games. He received a four-game suspension from the NHL for an illegal check against Buffalo on Sunday.

"He brings the skating element and the physical element, and he's hard on the forecheck," Berube said of Rinaldo. "He's a loss, for sure. He's a good player for us and we're definitely going to miss him."

Downie had said he was ready to play about a week ago, but Berube was cautious to put him back in the lineup.

"He defintely got a little more skating in; we would have liked to get even a little bit more in than he did, but with the loss of Zac, we need him," Berube said.

Berube said Tye McGinn will also return to the lineup Tuesday and that Jay Rosehill will be a healthy scratch.

McGinn is expected to be on a line with Vinny Lecavalier and Adam Hall.

The Flyers are trying to catch the Rangers and hold off fourth-place Columbus.

"We want to finish as high as possible; obviously home ice would be nice in the first round," winger Scott Hartnell said.

"We all know what's at stake and what we have to do here," Berube said. "Just trust your system and go out and play hard."

Breakaways. Steve Mason (2.52 GAA, .916 save percentage) will oppose Florida's Roberto Luongo (2.40, .919)...Former Flyer Scottie Upshall, who plays wing on Florida's second line, leads the Panthers with 36 points....Center Scott Gomez, who had been playing on the top line, will be a healthy scratch for Florida....Rinaldo on his suspension: "It sucks; it's the last thing I wanted to happen."

Follow Sam Carchidi on Twitter @BroadStBull.