The Florida Panthers are finally whole.
For the first time this season, the Panthers’ injured list is empty as Jonathan Huberdeau and Sasha Barkov were medically cleared in time for Friday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks (7:30 p.m., FSFL) at BB&T Center.
Huberdeau had been out since severing an Achilles tendon in the final exhibition game of the preseason; Barkov left a game Dec. 28 with a back injury.
“This gives out team a boost,” Dale Tallon said. “Getting our two best skilled forwards in the lineup really helps. It gives us a boost for the playoff run.”
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On Friday morning, both of them joined linemate Jaromir Jagr giving the Panthers their top line back for the first time this season.
“They said three or four months and the rehab went well, worked hard to come back,” Huberdeau said after Friday’s morning skate. “I’ve worked hard the past few weeks, worked on the stuff I had a hard time doing. Right now, I feel 100 percent. I’m ready to go and I told the trainers and coaches that.”
Said Barkov: “I’m always happy to be back. I don’t know if there’s more excited guys than me and Huberdeau right now. We’re glad to be back.”
Although Barkov, Huberdeau and coach Tom Rowe seemed to downplay the significance of having two of Florida’s best offensive players back in the lineup — “we’re just two pieces of the puzzle” Huberdeau said — it’s hard to paint Friday as anything but a positive for Florida’s playoff hopes.
Yes, the band is back together.
“This is great news, finally,” Tallon said.
“I have to give Huberdeau and Barkov a lot of credit and the training staff has worked tirelessly. ...
“When I saw the tendon cut [on Huberdeau], it didn’t look very good. Four-to-six months and this is four months. Give them credit for working so hard.”
The timing of Barkov and Huberdeau’s return comes as a bit of a surprise — especially for Huberdeau.
With Florida sending Jared McCann back to the minors, it appeared Barkov would be cleared in time for Friday’s game.
Huberdeau, however, was said to be on track to return in March — not early February.
“He’s been working hard,” Barkov said.
Tallon said there’s “always a concern” a player comes back from injury too soon.
“This is a marathon for us,” Tallon said. “These are two big guys in our core and they’re locked up for a long time with us. You want to make sure they’re 100 percent. Having said that, they’re eager to play.
“They know we don’t force anyone to play when they’re not ready.”
Huberdeau admits he’s still limping around a but but says the tendon is strong and being in his skates makes him feel stronger.
“Off the ice, it’s going to be a little harder to be where I was,” Huberdeau said. “Strength-wise, on the ice, I feel good. This is my first game, my season opener. I have to be careful because guys have been playing 50 games so they’re into their season and I’m just starting. I’ll keep it simple.”
▪ James Reimer, who didn’t start Tuesday after his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child, will be between the pipes Friday against the Ducks.
▪ With Florida’s top line back together, the Panthers will have the third line they hoped to see from the start of the season as Nick Bjugstad centers Jonathan Marchessault and Colton Sceviour.
Marchessault and Sceviour both scored in Florida’s 6-5 win over Ottawa on Tuesday.