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Noel Acciari closes in on a return to the Florida Panthers

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Noel Acciari of the Florida Panthers drives up the ice during a game last season at BB&T Center in Sunrise. // Roger Lee Photographer (561) 866-2000

Noel Acciari is getting closer to a return to the Florida Panthers lineup.

After missing the first four months of the season following preseason surgery, Acciari has been practicing with the team over the past few weeks.

On Wednesday, the Panthers announced he would be headed to their AHL team in Charlotte to begin a rehab assignment.

Acciari has met the Checkers in Rochester, N.Y., and should be in the lineup tonight against the Amerks.

Charlotte plays three games this week — tonight and Friday in Rochester, Saturday in Syracuse — so he will get some good game action in.

”He needs to play some hockey,” Florida GM Bill Zito said. “Make some passes, keep your head up. No one in practice is going to take your head off. There are some details you have to get used to again. Then, get back here and let’s go.”

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The Panthers also sent goalie Spencer Knight to Charlotte to get some game action in during Florida’s two-week All-Star/winter break.

Knight will not play tonight after starting for the Panthers in Tuesday’s 5-2 loss against the host New York Rangers.

He is expected to start on Friday night.

Acciari was hurt in a freak incident during a preseason game against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Orlando.

As a fight broke out at center ice, Acciari went to pull Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon off the pile and apparently tore a pectoral muscle in the process.

“It was a freak, freak, freak thing. A very unusual injury,” Joel Quenneville said at the time. “It’s an extensive rehab process.’’

Acciari needed surgery for the injury but was on the ice by November and working with the team by December.

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