The past two seasons have brought plenty of strange injuries for Erik Gudbranson.
Last year he busted up his shoulder while wakeboarding, then reinjured it at the end of a lockout-shortened season.
This year, Gudbranson took a puck to the face and needed surgery to repair his orbital bone. Earlier this month, he collided with Brad Marchand and hurt his knee.
On Thursday, Gudbranson is expected to return to the Panthers lineup after missing the past nine games. Although the games don't mean much anymore, Gudbranson says he’s bound and determined to finish up strong heading into the offseason — something his injured shoulder wouldn’t allow him to do last year.
“It's no fun being away from the team,”' said Gudbranson, the third overall pick of the 2010 NHL draft who made his debut the following year.
“It’s been a tough season, that’s no secret. You don’t want to take the easy way out. I want to be out there with my team, finish the season strong start building for next year. It starts now. The environment needs to change. We need to become winners. We can push ourselves to the limit these last nine games.'”
A restricted free agent this summer, Gudbranson doesn’t appear to be going anywhere.
General manager Dale Tallon told Canada’s Sportsnet earlier this month that Gudbranson was one of the blocks he plans to build around, even saying the 6-5 defenseman is “likely going to be the captain of our team someday.”
The Panthers hold the rights to Gudbranson for the next four seasons once he concludes this third NHL season.
“That’s why you pay your agents to take care of that,”' Gudbranson said. “I just want to get healthy, get back in the lineup and play good hockey. There is so much good young talent on this team. There is so much upside. We just need to grasp it and learn how to play hockey the right way.”
Rookie Vincent Trocheck got his first taste of an NHL shootout on Tuesday, making a nice fake on Ottawa goalie Robin Lehner to help lead the Panthers to a 3-2 win.
Brandon Pirri scored on Florida’s second attempt and Roberto Luongo made the save on Ottawa's third attempt to get the win.
For Trocheck — who tied the score at 2 late in the second — every win matters regardless of what the standings say.
“It feels great, we’re sick of losing here,” he said. “No one likes losing. We wanted those two points no matter what. That shows your professionalism when you can stick with it.”
Said coach Peter Horachek: “Right from the start of the year with both of us in San Antonio, I gravitated to him right off the hop. I felt his competitiveness.
“I could feel how much he wanted to be in every situation. He has no fear of who he’s playing against. He embraces it, wants the puck on his stick when it's most important.”
This and that• Horachek was understanding of why an official blew the whistle during a scrum in front of the net during the first period Tuesday. That early whistle cost the Panthers a goal as Sean Bergenheim was able to jab at a loose puck and knock it in. Bergenheim would later score to put the Panthers on the board after they fell behind 2-0.
“It definitely was an early whistle,” Horachek said. “But from the referee’s standpoint, he loses sight, you can’t blame him. You just hope it works out in your favor. Watching it on video, the [puck] was still sitting there. But the referee has to make that call.”• Florida sent center Joey Crabb and defenseman Ryan Whitney back to its AHL affiliate in San Antonio.