CORAL SPRINGS — Aaron Ekblad skated with the main group ahead of the Florida Panthers first practice of the postseason and there remains a strong possibility he returns to the lineup for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Tuesday.
Ekblad, out for over a month, was a full participant at practice and given a full workload during practice on Sunday at the IceDen.
“There’s a chance he could play Game 1,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said.
“We will see how he did today. He seems fine, but you never know with these things. They’re kind of tricky, so we’ll see.”
Ekblad has been out of the lineup since being injured on his first shift of a game March 18 in Anaheim with a lower-body injury.
He was placed on LTIR on March 20 and is eligible to be activated at any time now that the regular season is over.
Florida would have been over the salary cap had Ekblad been activated before the regular season ended — but NHL rules stipulate the salary cap is not a concern in the postseason.
Ekblad spent the majority of practice skating in his usual spot alongside MacKenzie Weegar on the top pairing — his usual spot throughout the last couple of seasons.
“He is a special player,” Sasha Barkov said. “It was so nice to see him back and now it feels like normal.”
Ekblad kept his name in Norris Trophy conversations up until his injury, ranking fourth in goals (15) and fifth in points (57) at the time of his injury.
“He’s been our leader since Day 1,” Radko Gudas said.
“He plays the biggest role on our back end and he was a stud the whole season, so we’re looking forward to having him back.
“It’s going to be hard for him to jump in right away Game 1, but you know if anyone can handle it, it’s him.”
— Florida was missing Jonathan Huberdeau, Mason Marchment and Carter Verhaeghe on Sunday.
”Maintenance days,” Brunette said. “We’re dealing with a few things that will get evaluated later today and kind of get an update.”
FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK
NHL STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, ROUND 1
VS. WASHINGTON CAPITALS (Best of 7)
- Game 1: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN2
- Radio: WQAM 560, SiriusXM
- Tickets: CLICK HERE
- Season series — Florida won 2-1: @Florida 5, Washington 4 OT (Nov. 4); @Washington 4, Panthers 3 (Nov. 26); @Florida 5, Washington 4 (Nov. 30)
- All-time regular season series: Capitals lead 67-44-11, 9 ties
- Playoff history: None
- First-round schedule — Game 1: Washington at Florida, Tuesday, 7:30 (ESPN2/BSF); Game 2: Washington at Florida, Thursday, 7:30 (TBS/BSF); Game 3: Florida at Washington, Saturday, 1 (ESPN/BSF); Game 4: Florida at Washington, May 9, 7 (TBS/BSF); Game 5*: Washington at Florida, May 11; Game 6*: Florida at Washington, May 13; Game 7: Washington at Florida, May 15. *If necessary