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Ekblad, Verhaeghe Return to Practice for Florida Panthers

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Florida Panthers Ekblad Verhaeghe
Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe returned to the ice for practice in full-contact jerseys on Monday. // Photo by Neil Sekerak (@FortunateNeil)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Aaron Ekblad and Carter Verhaeghe re-joined the Florida Panthers for practice.

Both Ekblad (lower-body injury) and Verhaeghe (undisclosed) have been out of the Florida lineup for the past few weeks and were both expected to be out for the rest of the regular season.

They will not play in Tuesday’s regular season finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs but both are on track to re-join the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs over the weekend.

“Neither will play tomorrow but they are close enough that I can say with pretty strong confidence that they will be in for Game 1,” coach Paul Maurice said. “They looked good, and didn’t put them in a non-contact [jersey], they went right to full-contact.”

Ekblad had four goals and 18 points in 51 games before leaving in the middle of the team’s loss to the Montreal Canadiens after throwing a body check.

Verhaeghe had 33 goals and 71 points in 75 games before leaving midway through Florida’s loss to Toronto with an undisclosed injury.

“They are obviously a huge part of our team and anytime you get guys like that our of your lineups or a period of time, it sucks,” Brandon Montour said. “But obviously, they are two guys who have been around for the last couple of years and always have a smile on their face and bring some energy, so it’s good for us coming into the end here.”

There was a palpable buzz around the team when both of them returned to the ice on Monday.

Everyone skated harder and there were a lot more cheers, including after a Verhaeghe goal which promptly ended practice on a high note.

“You saw it on the last rush,” Maurice said. “He scores and they want to end practice they were so happy.

“It’s good to get those guys back and both of those guys skate and get up and down the ice so well that they change the way you practice.”

As for the regular season finale, the Panthers could dress close to a full lineup regardless of the outcome of the Boston Bruins game tonight.

If Boston loses to the Washington Capitals today, Florida would still have a shot at winning the Atlantic Division title and facing off with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But the Panthers are not likely to rest too many players on Tuesday if the Bruins win, locking them into the No. 2 seed and a date with the Maple Leafs in Round 1.

“Early returns on the players that I would consider giving an option don’t want it,” Maurice said. “It’s just about the length and they don’t want a week off in between games, and you could just as easily get banged up on the way to the rink as you can in a hockey game.

”We’ll take a look at one or two guys that have a lot of minutes on them or a couple of guys that have some minor injuries we might consider and then we will fill out our roster.”

Sasha Barkov (tightness) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (minor injury) both missed practice, but even they are not 100 percent being held out of the lineup.

Sergei Bobrovsky will get the day off, with Anthony Stolarz starting the regular season finale against Toronto.

“He just came in stiff this morning and couldn’t loosen up, so we didn’t put him on the ice,” Maurice said of Barkov. “There’s no injury from the last game. If he comes in tomorrow and feels good, then depending on what happens tonight, we will have a conversation and make a decision.”

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

  • When: Tuesday, 7 p.m.
  • Where: Amerant Bank Arena, Sunrise
  • TV/Streaming: ESPN/ESPN+
  • Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (West Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); WCZR 101.7-FM (Treasure Coast); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
  • This Season (Leafs Lead 2-1) — At Florida: Panthers 3, Leafs 1 (Oct. 19); Tuesday. At Toronto: Leafs 2, Panthers 1 (Nov. 28); Leafs 6, Panthers 4 (April 1).
  • Last Season: Toronto won Regular Season Series 3-1; Florida won Eastern Conference Semifinals 4-1
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Toronto leads 50-37-7, 7 ties
  • END REGULAR SEASON
  • Up Next for the Panthers: GAME 1, Eastern Conference Quarterfinals; TBA

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