The Panthers’ run to the playoffs will come without their leading scorer after Nick Bjugstad had season-ending lower back surgery on Friday.
“After consulting with Nick and thoroughly evaluating the extent of his injury, we mutually felt it was important to have this procedure done as soon as possible,” Florida general manager Dale Tallon said in a release put out by the team Friday night.
Bjugstad had 24 goals and 19 assists in 72 games this season but had been hampered by a mysterious lower-body injury over the past few weeks.
In last Saturday’s win over Boston, Bjugstad’s shifts were limited before he determined he couldn’t go any more.
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Coach Gerard Gallant pulled Bjugstad from the game in the third period, and he hasn’t been on the ice since.
Bjugstad had his surgery at the Mayo Sports Clinic in his hometown of Minneapolis.
“It has been an issue for a while and got to a point where he couldn’t do it anymore,’’ Gallant said on Monday.
Added Tallon: “Nick showed a tremendous amount of character over the past month, playing through an injury, while helping our club compete down the final stretch for a playoff spot. He will be closely monitored by our medical staff during his rehabilitation process and will be ready for the start of training camp in September.’’
Bjugstad, who centers Florida’s second line, has been replaced in the lineup by Vincent Trocheck.
Although Bjugstad’s size and skill has been missed the past two games, Trocheck and former San Antonio teammate Brandon Pirri definitely show some chemistry. Of Pirri’s three goals in the past two games, Trocheck recorded the primary assist.
“We’re all buddies off the ice so I think that really helps with the chemistry on the ice,’’ Trocheck said Tuesday.
“Our line just happens to work. I’m a passer, [Pirri] is a shooter and Jimmy [Hayes] gets to the net. We all bring something different to the table, but it works out. This is an exciting run we’re on right now. We want to help this push to the playoffs.’’
Florida held a full workout Friday morning in Montreal with Gallant calling it “the best practice of the year.”
After Thursday night’s results, why not?
Florida is back within three points of both Boston and Ottawa. As the Panthers were beating the Maple Leafs 4-1, Boston lost in overtime and Ottawa got blown out by the visiting Rangers.
“We finally got some help for the first time in a while,’’ Gallant said. “We’re in the battle right now. We’re in the fight.”
Jonathan Huberdeau said getting “the two points in [Toronto] was huge, now Montreal is going to be huge, too.’’
Florida embarks on a tough four-day stretch in which it plays three playoff contenders — including both the Senators and Bruins.
The Panthers visit Montreal on Saturday with a quick turnaround in Ottawa on Sunday evening then plays their final road game of the regular season Tuesday in Boston.
Wins in all three and the Panthers could be in a playoff spot by the time their charter plane touches down in Fort Lauderdale.
“The issue isn’t playing three games in four nights because these games are so much fun right now,’’ Gallant said.
“We are playing very well right now and just want to see where we end up when it’s all said and done. We’re just trying to get to that goal.’’
▪ Roberto Luongo will try for his 400th NHL victory Saturday as he will start in his hometown against the Canadiens.
Who starts Sunday in Ottawa is up for debate, although it sounds as if Gallant is leaning toward riding Luongo down the stretch.
Backup Dan Ellis is the only goalie to play on consecutive days this season for the Panthers.
“Louie will play Saturday, for sure,’’ Gallant said, “then we will see after that. He’s been good, very solid. We’ll make a decision after the game Saturday.”
▪ Pirri (17 goals in 22 games) joined Bjugstad as 20-goal scorers for the Panthers this season. Last year, Brad Boyes’ 18 goals led the team.
Saturday: Panthers at Canadiens
When, where: 7 p.m., Bell Centre, Montreal.
TV, radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.
Series: Canadiens lead 38-37-6.
Noteworthy: This is the fourth of five meetings between the teams, with the Canadiens winning both games in Sunrise and Florida winning the lone game in Montreal.