Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant returns to face former team Columbus Blue Jackets

Gerard Gallant speaks after being introduced as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers during a news conference in Sunrise on June 23, 2014.
Gerard Gallant speaks after being introduced as the new head coach of the Florida Panthers during a news conference in Sunrise on June 23, 2014. AP

Gerard Gallant’s final home game as coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets came on Nov.10, 2006.

The Blue Jackets lost 4-1 to the visiting Oilers and then went on the road. Not long after Columbus lost in Chicago, Gallant was fired by longtime friend and Blue Jackets general manager Doug MacLean.

It took Gallant a while to get another chance at being a coach in the NHL, but Monday he returns to Nationwide Arena as bench boss of the Panthers.

Gallant said Sunday that coming back to work a game in Columbus holds no real special meaning even though his NHL coaching career started here as an assistant with the expansion Blue Jackets.

“I enjoy going back there and have been back [as an assistant] with Montreal and the Islanders,” Gallant said.

“I have a lot of good friends there. I had seven great years there. It’s a great city, and I really enjoyed it. The organization treated us well. I like everything about Columbus. But aside from that, it’s just coaching in another building. There’s nothing special about it.”

Derek MacKenzie, however, said he’s looking forward to playing his old team on Monday after leaving Columbus for Florida as a free agent in July.

MacKenzie spent seven seasons in the Blue Jackets organization after leaving the Atlanta Thrashers.

“I spent a long time there, and it wasn’t so long ago I was out there on that ice battling with those guys,” MacKenzie said. “I’m sure there will be a lot of emotions that day and in some ways it will tough. Lets not forget we have back-to-back games so these are crucial. It will be nice to see some friends, catch up with some of the guys, but we need to get some wins.”

LUONGO RETURNS

Roberto Luongo skated on Sunday and was all but cleared to play as the Panthers sent Dan Ellis back to AHL San Antonio.

Luongo sustained an apparent arm strain in the second period of Wednesday’s win over Carolina and missed Friday’s win against Ottawa.

Although Gallant was noncommittal about whether Luongo would play in Florida’s back-to-back set against Columbus and Detroit, it looks like he definitely will.

“He skated good [Sunday], everything looked good,” Gallant said.

This and that

▪ One of MacKenzie’s former teammates won’t be on the ice Monday as Nathan Horton — who spent six seasons with the Panthers — has been sidelined with what might be a career-threatening back condition.

Horton, whom Florida picked third overall in the 2003 NHL Draft, told the Columbus Dispatch that he is living in constant pain. If he decides to have surgery on his back, his career is likely over before he reaches the age of 30.

“I can’t stand up like a normal person; I can’t bend over,” Horton, 29, told the Dispatch last month. “I can’t run. I can’t play with my kids. To get in and out of the car, I’m like a 75-year-old man … so slow and stiff. I can’t sleep at night. I try to lay down and my back seizes up and I can’t move, so sleeping is out. I’m like a zombie in the daytime.”

MacKenzie only played with Horton for one season and that was an abbreviated one at that. Horton was sidelined with various injuries and played in just 35 games after signing a seven-year deal worth $37million.

“He’s a Stanley Cup winner, and I know how excited the team was when we signed him two summers ago,” MacKenzie said. “We’ll keep our fingers crossed and hope for a bit of a miracle for him.”

Horton was traded to the Bruins in 2010 after scoring 142 goals with 153 assists in 422 games. He and his family still reside in South Florida during the offseason.

▪ Shawn Thornton, who was struck in the face with a puck Friday, didn’t skate Sunday. Jussi Jokinen missed Friday’s game with an illness but was back Sunday and traveled to Ohio.

▪ San Antonio, Florida’s AHL affiliate, had its franchise-best seven-game winning streak stopped with a 4-3 loss to visiting Oklahoma City on Saturday night.

Monday: Panthers at Blue Jackets

When/where: 7 p.m.; Nationwide Arena, Columbus, Ohio.

TV/radio: FSFL; WQAM 560.

The series: Columbus leads 11-4-0.

Noteworthy: The Blue Jackets have owned the Panthers, with Columbus winning the past eight between the two including all three last season. Florida hasn’t beaten Columbus since 2007. The Jackets have struggled this year with just six wins.

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