CORAL SPRINGS — The Florida Panthers were back on the ice with full attendance Sunday afternoon, including all three goalies.
With Sergei Bobrovsky and Spencer Knight getting most of the main work — with Alex Lyon staying out very late to work with Casey Fitzgerald — it looks like the Panthers are getting their two main goalies back Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Of course, we have been here before.
Coach Paul Maurice would not confirm that either Bobrovsky or Knight would be in net against the Lightning, saying that would be a decision to come Monday morning.
“All three got through practice really well today and we’ll bring them in (Monday) morning and make the decision then,” Maurice said. “We wanted Bob and Knighter to get as much net as they could today. They needed to get through a volume of work before we can say they are ready to get back in there.”
The Panthers have been without Knight and Bobrovsky for the past couple of weeks.
Knight has not played since a 5-1 loss to Dallas on Jan. 8 — although he came back and played a back-to-back set for the AHL Charlotte Knights only to rejoin the Panthers and be ruled out for their final four games before the All-Star Break.
Bobrovsky was replaced in net by Lyon just 2:01 into Florida’s game at Montreal on Jan. 19 and never left.
Lyon ended up helping the Panthers beat the Canadiens 6-2 and then went 3-2-1 as he started the final five games before the break.
He stayed on the Florida roster throughout the break but by working with Fitzgerald for a good 30 minutes following the end of practice Sunday, it does not appear he would be the starter on Monday.
”Al has been playing great so we have three goalies that we have all the confidence in the world they can be our backbone,” Brandon Montour said of Lyon’s play last month.
“I think Bob and Knighter are pretty close to being ready to go and if they are not, Al is right there ready to go.”
Monday night’s game could be a sloppy early on as both the Panthers and Lightning are coming off an extended break.
Both of Florida’s All-Stars — MVP Matthew Tkachuk and Sasha Barkov — were on the ice Sunday afternoon while Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy and Nikita Kucherov were likely enjoying one last day off.
The two Lightning All-Stars were thought to have stayed in Fort Lauderdale on Sunday as their gear was waiting to be loaded into the visitors’ locker room Saturday night once the Western Conference All-Stars vacated it.
Having both teams coming off a bit of a vacation at least evens things up.
”We have to mentally get back into it,” Maurice said. “You see when you have one or two days off, both teams will be playing as simple as possible to get back to speed, back to physicality. The intensity level shifts after the All-Star break, for sure.
“The press is on now so it will be very intense hockey, very quickly. … You would like your first game to be the (other) team’s first game. This is a fair game for both teams.”
This game is obviously more important to the Panthers as they try and make up some real estate in the playoff race.
Florida comes out of the break six points behind the Capitals for the first wild card spot and three behind Pittsburgh for the second.
Tampa Bay is all but locked into the third spot in the Atlantic Division and will likely open the playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs for a second consecutive season.
“It is going to be a tough push,” said Sam Bennett, whose team has 30 games remaining. “But if anyone can do it, it is these guys in this locker room. We have full belief we’re going to make a good push here.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Monday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5-FM 2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Tampa Bay leads 2-0): Lightning 3, @Panthers 2 OT (Oct. 22); Lightning 4, Panthers 1 (Dec. 10)
- Last season: Split four regular season games; Tampa won second-round playoff series 4-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 73-50-19, 10 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Thursday vs. San Jose Sharks, 7 p.m.