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Florida Panthers Reserves Keep Working, Wait for Their Chance to Play

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Florida defenseman Josh Mahura takes Carolina's Sebastian Aho off the puck and to the ice during the third period of Game 2 in the Eastern Conference finals in Raleigh on May 20, 2023. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Jonah Gadjovich had not been in the Florida Panthers lineup for almost a month before he drew in for the injured Nick Cousins on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

Steven Lorentz played in Florida’s first 16 games before he was a healthy scratch for the first time.

He has been scratched a lot more since — 12 times since Thanksgiving.

Josh Mahura has also not played a lot in the past few weeks.

The defenseman sustained a knee injury on November 16 in Los Angeles. Now healthy, Mahura has been scratched in 14 of the past 15 games.

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While all three players would enjoy playing more, they know they play avital role in the success of the Panthers.

When the Florida Panthers needs them, as they needed Gadjovich on Thursday, they must be ready to go.

“I am feeling good, the team is doing well, so it is hard to complain right now,” Mahura said last week before the Panthers left for their four-game road trip.

“You have to put personal things aside and do what is best for the team. You come in every day and work as hard as you can trying to get better. That is all you can do. When your name is called, you better be ready to go.”

The three players have different circumstances as to why they have been out of the lineup lately.

Lorentz has shown to be a reliable player on the Panthers’ bottom-six.

Still, coach Paul Maurice has tried finding different combinations, and Gadjovich, returning from a hand injury that kept him out of training camp, initially pushed Lorentz out.

Then, when Gadjovich got sick on the December road trip to the Pacific Northwest, Florida recalled Will Lockwood.

The Panthers and Maurice like Lockwood.

Mahura appears to be a victim of circumstance, as he happened to hurt his knee the night before Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad were coming back into the lineup.

With Florida having so much depth on its blueline, Mahura had plenty of time to get healthy and not fear being rushed back in.

But he has been ready to go for a while now.

“It is unfortunate whenever you get injured during a season and it probably took a couple more days than I thought it would,” said Mahura, who not only played in all 82 regular season games last season but was in all of Florida’s playoff games as well.

“At the end of the day, it feels good now. You have to give injuries time. When it’s good, you have to trust it. Obviously it is tough, you want to be in the lineup every night, no matter what. Every guy in the league would say that. But we have a great group of guys and I love this team, love being on this team. We are having success and that is far and away the most important thing.”

Maurice said that in the case of Mahura, the Panthers like the six defensemen they have going right now and do not want to disturb it.

Who do you pull out? Dmitry Kulikov?

He has not done anything to be removed from the lineup and has been playing some really good hockey and has become a key part of a red-hot penalty kill.

Maurice said that when the Panthers return home later this month, they will get more practice time. That could mean all three players start returning to the lineup.

Mahura included.

“The first interactions you have with players are truthful ones. Right now, there are players ahead of you,” Maurice said. “The question you always get asked is ‘what do I have to do to get back into the lineup?’ Well, there are things you can’t do. Your personality cannot change just because you’re not in the lineup. I don’t like pulling D in and out because it’s a confidence thing. …

“We will have the practice time coming up where these guys will be in better game shape. We are fortunate. We had eight D who can play in the NHL and have some NHL forwards on the bench. It is a challenge for the coaching staff, but I do check in on how they’re doing.”

On Friday, the Panthers called up rookie Mackie Samoskevich from AHL Charlotte with Cousins being placed on IR.

When Florida plays Colorado today, it could be missing Sasha Barkov and Evan Rodrigues as well. There was no update on their condition Friday.

Perhaps some old faces get back into the lineup today.

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ COLORADO AVALANCHE

  • When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
  • Where: Ball Arena, Denver
  • TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida, ESPN+
  • Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
  • Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL App
  • Last Season: Split 1-1
  • This Season — At Colorado: Saturday. At Florida: Feb. 10.
  • All-time Regular Season Series: Colorado leads 27-12-5, 3 ties
  • Postseason Series: Colorado d. Florida 4-0, 1996 Stanley Cup Final
  • Up Next for the Panthers: Tuesday at St. Louis, 8 p.m.

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