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Changes Could Come to Florida Panthers in Final Homestand



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Kyle Okposo, pictured here in Dallas on March 12, could find extended playing time with the Florida Panthers in these final four games of the regular season. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

With four games remaining in this regular season, Florida Panthers coach Paul Maurice has many options for his gameday lineups.

Florida is expected to be without Carter Verhaeghe and Aaron Ekblad until the playoffs start in two weeks. 

Still, several other top players could take a night off as the Panthers give others some needed and deserved playing time.

One of the biggest names on the Florida bench is former Buffalo captain Kyle Okposo.

Florida acquired the veteran forward at the NHL Trade Deadline, but Okposo has played in just four games in the 13 games since.

You can write his name in the lineup for Saturday when the Sabres visit Sunrise — and perhaps a few more games.

Maurice will be mixing and matching lines in the final four home games, as neither team may have much at stake.

Yes, Florida needs to win to keep the second spot in the Atlantic Division.

With a five-point lead on Toronto — which visits next Tuesday — the Panthers will need to keep an eye on the Maple Leafs.

Okposo is not the only Florida player who has yet to see much ice time of late.

Florida could give defenseman Toby Bjornfot a look as well.

Bjornfot was claimed off waivers from Vegas on Deadline Day but only played against the New York Rangers on March 23.

Maurice was very complimentary of Bjornfot’s effort for the shorthanded Panthers against the Rangers.

“Got to see Tobias for the first time,’’ Maurice said. “He hasn’t played hockey in a long time. Second shift he’s down past the goal line on the other end. I thought, ‘Good for you, young man. Go show us what you can do and play the game to win’.”

Florida also will get Uvis Balinskis into the lineup before he is sent back to Charlotte for the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs.

Balinskis was recalled after Ekblad aggravated a previous injury but has not played in the two games since.

He could find his way in Tuesday against Ottawa.

Florida finally was able to take a breath after wrapping a run of 10 games in 17 days following Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss in Boston.

That game had plenty of juice due to the dislike between the two teams and the opportunity for Florida to jump back into the Atlantic race.

Now five points behind Boston, with four games left for both teams, the Panthers no longer prioritize that—and it may not have been a priority in the first place.

Florida will open this final regular-season homestand with a visit from the salty Senators, a team officially eliminated from the playoffs on Saturday.

Although Ottawa does not have anything to play for in this lost season, games against the Panthers have recently brought out the dander in both teams.

Columbus and Buffalo follow. 

Although the Sabres are technically still in the playoff hunt, they are pretty much done after losing to the Red Wings on Sunday.

So that is three games against teams out of the playoffs.

The fourth is Toronto, and if Florida has a healthy lead on second and the Leafs remain comfortably ahead of Tampa Bay for third, that playoff preview would have nothing on the line, either.

With both teams likely opening the playoffs against each other four days later in Sunrise, it may be treated as an exhibition by both.

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