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Sam Bennett, Evan Rodrigues Return as Panthers Host Lightning

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Florida Panthers center Sam Bennett skates during the first period in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Vegas Golden Knights on June 10 in Sunrise. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

FORT LAUDERDALE — Both Sam Bennett and Evan Rodrigues are set to return to the Florida Panthers lineup for Saturday night’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rodrigues has missed Florida’s past two games after leaving last Saturday’s win over the Calgary Flames late in the second period after blocking a shot with his ankle.

Bennett missed Thursday’s loss in Carolina with an undisclosed injury.

“Aside from all of the other things, they bring a different look of speed to our lineup,” coach Paul Maurice said. “They both skate very well. It’s two of your top nine guys and we’re slower in our game without them.”

That much was apparent when the Panthers got blitzed 4-0 by the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Bennett’s stabilizing presence in the defensive zone and Rodrigues’ heavy forechecking will be key in helping Florida get back to its game against its bitter cross-state rival.

“We didn’t move the puck very well in the second period,” Maurice said after the game. “I liked our first an awful lot. We’re down 1-0, but I wasn’t worried about it. We got behind the play a little bit and the second period got away from us. … We allowed ourselves to get hung up.”

Rodrigues and Bennett will slot back in at their usual spots on lines 2 and 3 while Kyle Okposo and Jonah Gadjovich will be healthy scratches.

“When [Okposo] comes in, there is a possibility he is not just in the lineup, but he can kill penalties and be on the power play, so there’s a role for him,” Maurice said. “But we had two players come back and I thought Nick Cousins, Ryan Lomberg, and Kevin Stenlund were really good in Dallas.

“They were the one line that was good for three periods, so I don’t want to mess with that. …That’s why I didn’t move Kyle down and take somebody else down. [That line] was very, very good in Dallas. And I’ve told them I’d like to get back to that tonight.”

GAME NOTES

Sergei Bobrovsky will start in net for the Panthers against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Anthony Stolarz is out with an illness. Evan Cormier has been called up from the ECHL Florida Everblades to back Bobrovsky up.

ON DECK

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING @ FLORIDA PANTHERS

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (45-18-4) LINEUP

10 Vladimir Tarasenko // 16 Sasha Barkov // 13 Sam Reinhart

23 Carter Verhaeghe // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk

27 Eetu Luostarinen // 15 Anton Lundell // 17 Evan Rodrigues

21 Nick Cousins //82 Kevin Stenlund // 94 Ryan Lomberg

91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson // 41 Gustav Forsling 

77 Niko Mikkola // 62 Brandon Montour

28 Josh Mahura // 7 Dmitry Kulikov

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

Evan Cormier

Scratched: Steven Lorentz, Tobias Bjornfot, Kyle Okposo, Jonah Gadjovich

Injured: Aaron Ekblad (LBI), Anthony Stolarz (sick)

PROJECTED TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (35-25-6) RECORD

10 Anthony Duclair // 21 Brayden Point // 86 Nikita Kucherov

38 Brandon Hagel // 71 Anthony Cirelli // 91 Steven Stamkos

23 Michael Eyssimont // 20 Nicholas Paul // 73 Conor Sheary

64 Tyler Motte // 11 Luke Glendening // 41 Mitchell Chaffee

77 Victor Hedman // 43 Darren Raddysh

48 Nick Perbix // 81 Erik Cernak

44 Calvin de Haan // 24 Matt Dumba

88 Andrei Vasilevskiy

31 Jonas Johansson

Scratched: Mitchell Chaffee, Austin Watson, Emil Lilleberg

Injured: Tanner Jeannot (undisclosed), Haydn Fleury (undisclosed)

Tampa Bay Lightning lines courtesy of NHL.com

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