In the month of March, the Panthers’ second line of Vincent Trocheck, Jussi Jokinen and Reilly Smith was scoring as much as any in the league, as the three combined for 17 goals and 24 assists.
But on March 29, Trocheck fractured a bone in his foot.
With Nick Bjugstad at center, it took the Trocheck-less trio a little time to get going, but lately they’ve been terrific.
Jokinen and Smith went six games without scoring, but both scored in Florida’s regular-season finale against Carolina. In the first two games of the playoffs, all three had a goal and combined for five goals and six assists.
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“It has been awesome getting that kind of production in the postseason,’’ said Smith, who had three goals and two assists in the first two games of the Islanders series. “There’s obviously a lot of work left. You don’t want to settle. It comes in waves, and it’s nice to be riding one right now.’’
Bjugstad was the only member of that line to score a goal before the Carolina game, scoring twice in Florida’s final week.
On Friday, he scored his first postseason goal, connecting on a nice pass from Smith in the second period of Florida’s 3-1 win. Smith scored the Panthers’ first goal after hopping on a nice rebound off a hard Bjugstad shot.
With Florida’s top line doing everything but scoring in the opening two games, the Panthers have been fortunate to have others step up.
“It’s going well, you want to contribute, you want to play your role, especially in the playoffs,’’ Bjugstad said. “Our top line is creating a lot of chances, and it’s going to go in eventually for them. Having other guys score is important. Reilly Smith is having a big series so far. We just have to keep doing what we’re doing.’’
Trocheck is back skating, although his return date to the lineup isn’t known. Coach Gerard Gallant said Trocheck didn’t skate Sunday because of a lack of ice but is expected to skate Monday and Tuesday in Newark, New Jersey.
Although Trocheck’s return for Game 4 on Wednesday night is still in question, Gallant said he expects him to return sometime during this series.
If that’s the case, Trocheck is expected to rejoin Jokinen and Smith, with Bjugstad reuniting with Teddy Purcell and Jiri Hudler.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Mike Matheson was back in the Panthers’ lineup after making his postseason debut on Friday.
“It was definitely pretty special,’’ Matheson said Sunday morning. “I thought, personally, it was an OK game for myself. There were definitely some nerves early on, but as the game went on I started feeling more and more comfortable.’’
▪ Gallant said rookie center Rocco Grimaldi was sent back to the minors because of his defensive play, “getting beat in the corners.”
Derek MacKenzie jumped up and centered the third and fourth lines during the third period of Friday’s game as Grimaldi was limited to just one 33-second shift.
“He’s a real responsible defensive player, can kill penalties, win some faceoffs,” said Gallant of MacKenzie. “I have liked what I’ve seen from him.”
Shawn Thornton and Garrett Wilson, Florida’s two fourth-line wingers, got a combined seven shifts in the third period on Friday as Gallant shortened his bench.
Logan Shaw was called up from the minors to replace Grimaldi but was a healthy scratch on Sunday.
Greg McKegg centered the fourth line and became the 10th Florida player to make his NHL postseason debut in the first three games of this series.
▪ With three games in four days, the Panthers are expected to take Monday off before returning to practice Tuesday at the New Jersey Devils’ practice facility at Prudential Center in Newark.