The short-handed Florida Panthers finally have reinforcements on the way.
Center Sasha Barkov and defenseman Erik Gudbranson both fully participated at practice on Monday, and coach Gerard Gallant said they would play Thursday against Arizona.
“They’ve been out a couple of weeks now roughly,” Gallant said, “so it’s good to get them back in our lineup.”
Gudbranson has missed eight games and has not played since a Feb. 4 home matchup against the Red Wings, while Barkov missed six games and has been out since he sustained a concussion in Detroit on Feb. 8.
Barkov said he had to relax and not “do anything stupid” for the first couple days after the injury. The 20-year-old center said he felt many of the major symptoms, which include being over tired and suffering from headaches.
“It was just weird because it was [the] first time I got a concussion,” Barkov said. “I didn’t know what to think.”
As the symptoms went away, though, Barkov made a point to bike and work out. Though the team still has a few days until Thursday’s game against Arizona, Barkov said he feels like he’s in game shape.
Gudbranson also said he’s ready to get back to game action, and he’s “starting to feel pretty good” after he sustained an upper-body injury against Detroit.
The Panthers’ recent schedule has paid dividends as Barkov and Gudbranson prepare to return to the ice. Florida’s game against the Coyotes will be just the Panthers’ third since Feb. 15, and they’re in the middle of a four-day break after Saturday’s win over Winnipeg.
“I think this week is kind of perfect,” Gudbranson said. “It’s giving us some time to actually go hard at the practice facility and get your body ready. I don’t think it does me any value going into the lineup and easing my way in. I’ve got to get in there and play my game. Just play. I don’t know what their plans are behind the bench, but obviously I’m going to go out there and do my job best I can. Try to be physical as early as possible and get myself back into it.”
Gallant didn’t make it seem like Gudbranson will have to wait long.
“We’ll put them out there as much as we can and see how they feel,” Gallant said. “Just gauge it. It’s like playing the kids the other night. If they’re playing well and working well, you’re just putting them on the ice.”
Barkov averages just over 19 minutes per game, while Gudbranson plays just under 20 minutes. Both could earn their normal playing time on Thursday when Arizona comes to Sunrise, Gallant said.
“If they can get there and they’re playing well, then fine,” Gallant said. “If they don’t, if they play 16 or 17 [minutes] and that’s all they need, then that’s fine too. We’re not really worried about the minutes, we’ll see how they feel and see how they look.”
As Barkov and Gudbranson return, Jonathan Huberdeau remains out. He did not skate with the team Monday, and Gallant said there was “not a chance” that he would play Thursday. Huberdeau left Saturday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets after he fell hard against the boards following a hit from Jacob Trouba.
Quinton Howden practiced Monday in an orange noncontact jersey, and Gallant said he should be back “pretty soon.” Howden sustained an upper-body injury against Nashville on Feb. 13.