The Panthers have large banners in their locker room which scream “No Excuses.”
With two of their top players out and a pair of playoff teams visiting Sunrise on consecutive nights, the Panthers aren’t offering up any.
Florida, most likely, will be without top-line center Sasha Barkov as well as top shutdown defenseman Erik Gudbranson through the weekend.
The timing of their absences could be better, what with the St. Louis Blues at BB&T Center on Friday followed by the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
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“Fortunately for us, we’ve had some off days and our schedule isn’t too bad,’’ coach Gerard Gallant said. “We’re missing big horses who log a lot of minutes.’’
Barkov has been out since apparently sustaining a mild concussion during the second period of Monday night’s loss in Detroit.
“He’s feeling much better,” Gallant said. “We don’t see it as a long-term thing. I don’t think he’s playing this weekend; hopefully Monday. We’re taking it one day at a time. Everything is moving forward. But I can’t say the kid is playing Monday because I just don’t know.”
Gudbranson is thought to have initially gotten injured during a revenge fight against Edmonton’s Matt Hendricks (who boarded and concussed Aaron Ekblad) yet played through what is believed to be a slight shoulder injury.
Gudbranson has been out of the lineup since the Penguins game last Saturday.
“We’ve battled with injuries all season, and that’s the name of the game,’’ Alex Petrovic said. “I don’t think we think about who is in, who is out. Of course, these are big losses. But we’re professional, we come to work and everyone does their job to the best of their ability. We’re a good team. There’s a reason we’re in first place. There’s some adversity, but we’ve been good about dealing with it.’’
The Panthers, who still enjoy a nice lead atop the Atlantic Division, kick off a six-game homestand Friday with the first of four games against teams holding down playoff spots.
It’s not an easy homestand, especially starting it off minus two of their best players.
“We have a ‘next-guy-up’ mentality,” Vincent Trocheck said. “We know we have guys who can step up and fill a role when needed.”
Not only is Barkov one of the team’s scoring leaders, he is perhaps Florida’s top defensive forward and is relied on to kill penalties. Gudbranson is also one of the Panthers’ top defensive players, and his absence has been noticed.
“As a defenseman, as any player, you want more minutes,’’ Dmitry Kulikov said. “We take each game as its own; we don’t look too far ahead. Back-to-back games can be tiring, but we’re used to it. We play quite a few of them in a season.”
The Panthers are also missing defenseman Willie Mitchell because of various lower-body issues.
Like Gudbranson and Barkov, Mitchell plays a big role in Florida’s defensive plans.
“We definitely miss them a lot, they kill a lot of penalties and are physical players,’’ Gallant said. “But we have guys who have come in and are playing bigger minutes, getting bigger roles. So far it has worked out OK.’’
▪ The Panthers have been terrific at home since Thanksgiving, winning 12 of their past 15, with their only losses coming to Ottawa, Edmonton and Pittsburgh.
The Penguins visit Sunrise again on Monday after beating Florida in overtime (for the second time this season) last week.
Florida’s 17 home wins are tied for third in the Eastern Conference.
“The guys are excited to play at home now,’’ Gallant said. “We’re getting big crowds, the atmosphere is great. When you feel good about yourself, it’s a big difference. As a coach, you don’t notice it a lot behind the bench, but you can feel the buzz. A lot of the seats are filled and that’s fun.’’
Friday: Blues at Panthers
When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise
TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WNMA 1210
Series: St. Louis leads 19-8-3
Scouting report: The Panthers snapped a six-game losing streak to St. Louis by winning 3-1 at Scottrade Center on Dec. 2 – Florida’s first win there since 2009. The Blues have lost four of their past six games; the Panthers have won six of their previous eight.