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Panthers Pregame: Huberdeau, Cats back at full strength v. Rangers

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Jonathan Huberdeau at the Florida Panthers morning skate on Wednesday after being on the Covid-19 protocol list since Sunday // Photo by @ColbyDGuy

The Florida Panthers are as healthy as they have been all season as they head into tonight’s matchup with the New York Rangers.

Jonathan Huberdeau, who was in Covid protocols earlier this week, was back on the ice for morning skate and will be in the lineup on Wednesday night.

“It was a decision I had to make and I want to play and I felt good,” Huberdeau said. “It doesn’t matter the team [we’re playing against,] it was more about how I was feeling and it’s good to be back in the lineup.”

Huberdeau didn’t get a chance to practice with the team this week, as he just came off of the Covid list this morning.

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“I didn’t get to practice this week, so I know it’s going to be harder, but I know what I can do,” he said. “I have to keep things simple, shorter shifts, and try to be energized.”

Sasha Barkov, Mason Marchment and Maxim Mamin, who all missed time with injury, will also be making their return to the lineup as well.

“It’s going to be fun to have the full lineup again,” Huberdeau said. “I think it was different in the past few games and a lot of the young guys stepped up, now we just have to get back to our game, get some chemistry back, and get the power play going.”

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Said Rangers coach Gerard Gallant: “They are going to be healthy and hopefully they are a bit rusty like every other team in the league. They have their best players out there tonight and it will be a battle. The game against Florida, we were up 4-0 and our goaltending was incredible and he had to be because we held on for a 4-3 win. That’s a good hockey team over there, I know a lot of their players and that is a very talented team. We’ll have to give our best tonight.”

Panthers interim coach Andrew Brunette had some decisions to make and it meant regulars Frank Vatrano, Joe Thornton and Owen Tippett, who came back from Covid protocols on Tuesday, will be healthy scratches.

PREGAME VIDEO: The FHN Morning Skate with GR, Huberdeau, Brunette and Gallant

“They’re never fun decisions, they’re still big parts of our team,” Brunete said. “Tippett’s still getting back from having the illness.”

Noel Acciari, who’s been out since the Panthers’ preseason game in Orlando with an upper-body injury, was doing solo drills prior to morning skate but didn’t skate with the regular group.

Sergei Bobrovsky will be starting in net for the Panthers while Spencer Knight appears to be the backup.

It looks like Jonas Johansson is the third goaltender for now and will be a healthy scratch for the matchup with the Rangers.

New York is one of the few teams in the league with a better record than Florida following the holiday break.

They’re currently tied for fourth in points percentage (.700) with 42 points and a 19-7-4 record through 30 games.

“They’re a young, fast team, so for us it’s gonna be huge for us to not give them a lot of space in the neural zone and in our zone,” Radko Gudas said.

“We have to make sure we elevate the high danger chances and play good, strong defensive zone coverage and good defense.”

The Panthers will likely be getting Igor Shesterkin back in net, who is coming back from a groin injury he sustained on Dec. 3.

The last time the Panthers faced Shesterkin, he stopped 42 of Florida’s 45 shots in a 4-3 Florida loss.

“Tonight is going to be one of those games where we have to be smart with the puck and manage the game and we got to be tight structurally,” Brunette said.

FLORIDA PANTHERS ON DECK

RANGERS AT PANTHERS

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