Florida Panthers get big boost at key area as schedule resumes. More could be on the way
The Florida Panthers are getting both of their top goaltenders back as they get ready for a sprint of a 30-game schedule to close the regular season and push for a playoff spot.
Sergei Bobrovsky will return to net Monday for the Panthers for the first time in nearly three weeks when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning at FLA Live Arena to resume their schedule following the All-Star Break. Spencer Knight, who hasn’t played for Florida in nearly a month, will back up.
Bobrovsky hasn’t played since leaving about two minutes into the Panthers’ 6-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 19 after he jammed his left leg into the goalpost trying to make a play on the puck. He had started six of seven games before the injury, logging a .909 save percentage (180 saves on 198 shots and leading Florida to a 4-1-1 record in those games.
Knight, meanwhile, last played for the Panthers on Jan. 8, missing time with an upper-body injury. After playing back-to-back games on Jan. 21 and 22 for the Charlotte Checkers, Florida’s American Hockey League affiliate, Knight returned to the active roster on Jan. 23 with the anticipation of playing against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Jan. 24. Knight, however, had a setback and has yet to be back in net in a game.
With Bobrovsky and Knight sidelined, the team turned to Alex Lyon for six consecutive games to close out their schedule before the All-Star Break. Florida went 3-2-1 with Lyon in net, highlighted by a 4-3, come-from-behind overtime victory against the Boston Bruins on Jan. 28 in which Lyon stopped 38 of 41 shots he faced against the top team in the league.
Anthony Duclair getting close to return
Panthers winger Anthony Duclair still has some hurdles to clear as he recovers from Achilles surgery during the summer.
But the speedy forward, who scored a career-high 31 goals last season, is nearing the next big step to making his return to Florida’s roster.
Panthers coach Paul Maurice on Sunday said he is “hopeful” Duclair will shed the yellow non-contact practice jersey at some point this week.
After that, the Panthers will need to evaluate how he feels going through every phase of practice before likely sending him to Charlotte for a conditioning stint to get him up to game speed ahead of his season debut.
“I don’t think cautious is the right word,” Maurice said. “We try to be as smart as we possibly can with such a dangerous injury. When he says he’s ready to go into a full-contact jersey, then mentally he’s ready. Physically, we feel he’s pretty close.”
Barkov, Tkachuk represented Panthers well at All-Star Game
While the Panthers return to home ice as a team Monday, two of their top players got a head start this weekend.
Matthew Tkachuk and Aleksander Barkov represented the hometown Panthers in the 2023 NHL All-Star Game and both were integral in the Atlantic Division’s victory on Saturday. Tkachuk won MVP honors after logging seven points (four goals, three assists) over two games, while Barkov had four assists.
“It was as good as it could have been,” Maurice said. “The sold-out building, lots of hockey fans and lots of Panthers fans, and the two recognizable faces of our franchise put on a great show and won and had fun doing it. And they were publicly available. They put themselves out there. They did a lot of events and you appreciate that. It’s their All-Star Break, too, but they felt a sense of responsibility to this market and they did a marvelous job of it.”
As part of the winning team, Tkachuk and Barkov split a $1 million prize with the rest of the 11-player Atlantic team.
“Hopefully the next team dinner is on them,” center Sam Bennett said. “That was good for them.”