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Panthers Pregame: Sasha Barkov back with Florida in St. Louis

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Florida Panthers center Sasha Barkov is attended to by athletic trainer Dave DiNapoli and Anthony Duclair after taking a knee-on-knee hit from Scott Mayfield of the Islanders on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021. — AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

The Florida Panthers held things together in the absence of Sasha Barkov, winning six of the eight games he missed with a suspected left knee injury.

Tuesday night, Florida’s captain is back.

Barkov will return for the Panthers Tuesday against the host St. Louis Blues after missing the past eight games following a knee-on-knee hit from Scott Mayfield of the Islanders.

The Panthers all but hinted at Barkov’s return in Monday’s practice as he centered a new-look top line (Maxim Mamin is in while Anthony Duclair continues to rehab) and was back on the first power play unit.

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Barkov said after Tuesday’s morning skate at Enterprise Center that he couldn’t wait to get back out there.

“It feels great. I have been waiting for this for a long time,” Barkov said. “Obviously the boys are playing really well, winning games and that is fun to watch. You want to be a part of that as soon as possible and I worked hard and feel good enough to be back in the lineup.

”I wanted to make sure I didn’t rush it. Our training staff is amazing, they do a really good job and all I had to do was what they told me to do. Skating has gone well and i am really happy where I am right now. I thank them.”

On Feb. 1, 2020, Barkov sustained a knee injury against the Montreal Canadiens and only missed three games.

His play suffered, however, and he later admitted he did rush back too soon.

With that in the back of his mind — and this injury coming in mid-November and with the Panthers in first place and not fighting for a playoff spot — he was able to take his time with the injury and make sure everything is right.

“This one, I took a little better care of it,” said Barkov, who scored just four goals with eight points in the final 16 games of the 2019-20 regular season before the NHL shut the 2019-20 season down.

“The trainers always do a good job but now I really understand the situation and it needs time to heal. You don’t want to rush it. I feel good right now, ready to go. I am comfortable with it. Hearing from the trainers that I am ready to go means a lot.“

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With Barkov in, the Panthers have changed up their power play a bit.

Barkov is now the Florida power play quarterback, a role he held last year in the playoffs when the Panthers scratched Keith Yandle.

“It’s great, I have played with a lot of good players who have played there — for example, Keith Yandle,” Barkov said.

“I learned a lot from him, moving the puck and passing the puck, making the decisions out there. You get the puck out there a lot so you have to make the right decisions. I like this opportunity.”

Florida will also have Gus Forsling back after he missed the minimum three games after being placed on IR last week. Forsling was quickly practicing with the team and will be partnered with Radko Gudas tonight.

— The Panthers did indeed lose defenseman Kevin Connauton on waivers on Tuesday as the veteran was claimed by the struggling Philadelphia Flyers.

Philadelphia fired coach Alain Vigneault in the midst of an eight-game losing streak on Monday.

Florida was hoping to get Connauton through waivers so he could play at AHL Charlotte as the play of Lucas Carlsson has impressed of late.

— Florida Hockey Now is hosting a Panthers watch party Tuesday night at the Inn-Field Pub in Sunrise just a few blocks away from FLA Live Arena.

There will be food and drink specials throughout the game.

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