Florida Panthers

Panthers get Bjugstad and Petrovic back, wait continues for Barkov and Huberdeau

Nick Bjugstad, out since Jan. 6 with a groin injury, returns to the lineup on Thursday. Alex Petrovic, out since Nov. 15, is back as well.
Nick Bjugstad, out since Jan. 6 with a groin injury, returns to the lineup on Thursday. Alex Petrovic, out since Nov. 15, is back as well. AP

The Florida Panthers will have two big pieces back for Thursday’s game against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning as Nick Bjugstad and Alex Petrovic come off the injured list.

As for Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, well, their return appears to still be a ways off although it may only be a few more weeks in Barkov’s case.

Bjugstad and Petrovic both took part in Florida’s training-camp style practice on Wednesday and are expected to be back in the lineup on Thursday.

The Panthers have two roster spots open which will be filled when Bjugstad and Petrovic are officially activated in the morning.

“It’s great, both are obviously great players,” general manager and interim head coach Tom Rowe said. “We need them and [it’s] the right time of the year. We need them to come in, give us a good boost.”

Petrovic has been out since injuring an ankle Nov. 15 at Montreal and was razzed pretty good by his fellow defensemen in the locker room as he tried to speak to the media about the long road back to playing.

“It’s good to be back,” said Petrovic, whose physical style has been missed by the Panthers in the two months he has been out.

“When you’re out two months, sitting at home watching the boys play, it’s tough to do that. ... We have had a bunch of injuries this season, a lot of changes but for all of use, we’re coming to together right now.”

FACEBOOK LIVE: Florida Panthers practice in Coral Springs via new Miami Herald Sports page

Bjugstad missed the first five weeks of the season with a wrist injury suffered in the preseason before leaving again with a groin injury earlier this month.

In the 21 games Bjugstad played this season, the Panthers used him in a variety of positions with a multitude of linemates.

Wednesday didn’t seem to be any different.

Although Rowe said Bjugstad would center Florida’s fourth line on Thursday, Bjugstad said he wasn’t sure where he would be against the Lightning.

It appears Jussi Jokinen will continue centering Florida’s second line.

“I was out at the beginning of the season so I’m a little sick of being injured and am ready to play,” Bjugstad said. “I want to try and help the team any way I can. It’s no fun watching from the couch from home when they’re on the road. I’m hungry to get back, ready to get back.”

As for Barkov and Huberdeau, Rowe said not much has changed.

Barkov, out since Dec. 28 with what numerous sources told the Miami Herald is a back injury.

A source within the Florida front office said Wednesday afternoon it doesn’t appear Barkov will need back surgery. The team hopes to have Barkov back next month.

On Wednesday, Rowe said he was being told Barkov’s rehabilitation was progressing and he didn’t believe surgery would be needed.

“If it goes that way, which I don’t anticipate, I will let you know,” said Rowe, who met with his medical staff Wednesday afternoon to discuss Barkov’s progress.

“The rehabbing he’s doing, from every report I have gotten, has been positive.”

Huberdeau has been out since suffering an Achilles tendon injury in the final exhibition game of the preseason and is said to be on track to return in March.

Both players are skating away from the rest of the team with former Florida forward Marco Sturm helping with their on-ice conditioning.

▪ The Panthers sent Reto Berra back to their AHL team in Springfield, Massachusetts, after he was brought up when James Reimer left the team to be with his expectant wife during the previous road trip.

Reimer’s wife, as of Wednesday morning, was still expecting. Rowe said the Panthers plan on Reimer backing up Roberto Luongo on Thursday although things could change.

FACEBOOK VIDEO: Tom Rowe talks following practice via One Panther Parkway

THURSDAY: LIGHTNING AT PANTHERS

▪ When, where: 7:30 p.m.; BB&T Center, Sunrise.

▪ TV/Radio: FSFL; WQAM 560, WMEN 640, WMYM 990.

▪ Series: Florida leads 63-51-10.

▪ Scouting report: Florida and Tampa Bay finished first and second in the Atlantic Division last season but much has changed this year. The Bolts snapped a three-game slide with an impressive win in Chicago on Tuesday yet still sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings — just one point removed from the Panthers who have dropped their past four.

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