SUNRISE — Despite getting Anthony Duclair back from injury, the Florida Panthers got more bad injury news ahead of their Friday night matchup with the Buffalo Sabres.
They will be without their two top centers — Sasha Barkov (hand) and Sam Bennett (lower-body) — in what will be a critical game for their playoff hopes.
Both of them are listed as day-to-day and could possibly draw into the lineup for Tuesday’s clash with the Tampa Bay Lightning, per head coach Paul Maurice.
Florida will lean on Anton Lundell to move back to center and take on some of the minutes lost by their two top guns.
Duclair will make his season debut on Lundell’s line with Sam Reinhart on the right side.
The line could provide a ton of versatility to make Duclair as comfortable as possible in his return as Reinhart can play all three forward positions and Lundell can move from center to left wing.
For now, Duclair will start on the left side of that line — a bit of a change from his 30-goal season from the right side in 2021-22.
”Reinhart can play on his off side if we feel we need to get Anthony back on the right, so that would probably be the first adjustment I’d make,” Maurice said.
”After that, I would consider moving Lundell back to the wing and then you’d have lots of speed down the wings and a smart guy down the middle. That line I’d keep intact.”
The Panthers enter Friday night two points ahead of the Sabres with four more games played to set up a must-win scenario if they want to keep their footing in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
”It’s the biggest game of the year,” Ryan Lomberg said.
”As we go on, the games are going to get bigger and bigger so we are up for the challenge and we are looking forward to it.”
Florida finds itself in a rough spot going forward, as it has the second-most games played in the league in a race they are tightly entrenched in.
They are currently tied with the Detroit Red Wings for the East’s final wild card spot with 64 points with three more games played.
The Pittsburgh Penguins also still loom as a threat with one fewer point and three fewer games played than the Panthers.
Only the New York Islanders, who occupy the first wild card spot with 67 points, do not have a games played advantage on the Panthers going into the stretch run of the playoff race.
Despite the disadvantage, Florida is not feeling the pressure of having no room for error.
”We’re aware that we have more plays played than the other teams,” Lomberg said.
“We just got to take care of our own business.”
— Givani Smith was placed on long-term injured reserve with a facial injury he suffered after getting struck by a puck in Monday’s win over the Anaheim Ducks.
Maurice said that Smith needs a week of healing following the procedure he had on Thursday before he hits the ice and needs another week or two of practice before he becomes a competitive player again.
The Panthers called up Grigori Denisenko and Zac Dalpe with the cap space created by the move to draw in for Barkov and Bennett.
— Spencer Knight is taking an extended leave from the Panthers as it was announced Friday afternoon he would be taking part in the NHL/NHLPA joint player assistance program.
His move to Charlotte has been canceled and he is not on the Panthers’ active roster. Knight can return when he has been cleared by program administrators.
PANTHERS ON DECK
BUFFALO SABRES AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- DraftKings odds — Panthers favored: Money Line (-200); Puck line (-1.5, +120); Over/Under 7 (-110/-110)
- Season Series (Florida leads 2-0): Panthers 4, Sabres 3 (Oct. 15); Panthers 4, Sabres 1 (Jan. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 3-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 53-44-8, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Feb. 28 at Tampa Bay, 7 p.m.
PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS LINEUP
23 Carter Verhaeghe // 27 Eetu Luostarinen // 19 Matthew Tkachuk
10 Anthony Duclair // 15 Anton Lundell // 13 Sam Reinhart
94 Ryan Lomberg // 12 Eric Staal // 21 Nick Cousins
14 Grigori Denisenko // 22 Zac Dalpe // 6 Colin White
42 Gus Forsling // 5 Aaron Ekblad
62 Brandon Montour // 18 Marc Staal
28 Josh Mahura // 7 Radko Gudas
72 Sergei Bobrovsky
34 Alex Lyon
Injured: Givani Smith (LTIR-face), Patric Hornqvist (LTIR-concussion), Sam Bennett (lower body), Sasha Barkov (hand)
Scratched: Casey Fitzgerald
PROJECTED BUFFALO SABRES LINEUP
53 Jeff Skinner // 72 Tage Thompson // 89 Alex Tuch
77 John Jason Peterka // Dylan Cozens // Victor Olofsson
37 Casey Mittelstadt // 19 Peyton Krebs // 22 Jack Quinn
28 Zemgus Girgensons // 17 Tyson Jost // 21 Kyle Okposo
26 Rasmus Dahlin // 10 Henri Jokiharju
25 Owen Power // 23 Mattias Samuelsson
46 Ilya Lybushkin // 78 Jacob Bryson
31 Eric Comrie
41 Craig Anderson