The Panthers currently have three players sidelined because of concussion issues. Two of them could be back in the lineup by the end of the weekend.
Goalie Roberto Luongo and winger Jonathan Huberdeau joined their teammates for practice Thursday, with Luongo potentially starting Friday’s game against the visiting Flames. Huberdeau could return Sunday against Dallas.
Tomas Kopecky, who sustained his concussion playing in the Olympics, was expected to practice Thursday but did not. His status for the rest of the season is unclear. Florida has five games before the 2013-14 campaign concludes.
“I feel good,” said Luongo, who was diagnosed with a mild concussion after being run into by former Panthers forward Radek Dvorak last week.
“I’ve been skating on my own the past three days, ramping things up each day. This was a good progression.”
Luongo went down when Dvorak came racing toward the net with his head down, apparently not realizing how quickly he had come up on Luongo. The two collided with Luongo getting hit in the head by Dvorak, as well as banging his head against the goal cage.
“I wasn’t sure what was going on, just felt a little weird,” Luongo said. “They didn’t want to take any chances. I could have kept playing if I really wanted to and the stakes were a little bit higher. In a situation like this, we thought it would be better to err on the side of caution.”
Dvorak was ejected from the game, one in which Luongo finished the first period but didn’t return for the second. Luongo said Dvorak came by the Panthers locker room to apologize for the hit.
Dvorak still has a home in South Florida and trains with Luongo in Coral Springs occasionally during the offseason.
“Obviously, he didn’t slow down but it was an accident,” said Luongo, who has missed the past three games — all losses. “He’s not the type of player to do that. He was going to the net and once he put his head up, he was in the crease already. There was no intention.”
Huberdeau was hurt March 16 against Vancouver when he was ran up into the boards. He began skating for the first time last week and had been working out with the Panthers away on a two-game road trip.
Thursday’s practice was Huberdeau’s first with the team since the Vancouver game, and he said all his concussion-like symptoms are gone and he hopes to play Friday. Coach Peter Horachek isn’t ruling that out completely but said Sunday is probably a more realistic option.
“It was good to see him out there,” Horachek said. “There was no contact [Thursday], so I’ll discuss it with the trainers and go from there. My best guess is Sunday, but I won’t know that until talking to the trainers.
“I would like to see him out there, but you don’t want to put him in before he’s ready.”
Huberdeau has had a rough season, one in which the reigning Rookie of the Year has just eight goals — and only one in his past 36 games.
“It’s been a while, but it was nice. It was a good skate, and I feel great,” Huberdeau said. “This hasn’t been a good season for me, so to finish positively going into the summer is important. It would be good to get some wins, feel like a winner going into the summer.”
As far as Kopecky goes, not practicing Thursday could be viewed as a setback and might indicate that he may not play this season.
Kopecky hasn’t practiced with the team since before the Olympic break and hasn’t been in a game situation since Slovenia forward Sabahudin Kovacevic hit him in the head with an elbow.
Kovacevic was suspended one game for his hit on Kopecky.
“There are little setbacks with what he’s been through,” Horachek said. “There are steps forward and steps back. We don’t need to rush him.”
Brad Boyes, Florida’s leading goal scorer, missed Thursday’s practice with a sore back and isn’t expected to play Friday. Boyes has been getting treatment for some time and was a game-time decision Tuesday.
Boyes played but only lasted five shifts before leaving the game in the first period. Bobby Butler, called up from the minors Tuesday, replaced Boyes on a line with Scott Gomez and Sean Bergenheim.
• Three of Florida’s final five home games will not be broadcast on local TV starting with Friday’s game against Calgary.
For those local viewers who have the NHL’s Center Ice package, the three games will not be blacked out and will use the visiting team’s feed.