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Vladimir Tarasenko Back in Ottawa, Panthers Face Senators

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Tarasenko trade
Vladimir Tarasenko, then with the Ottawa Senators, passes past Florida defenseman Niko Mikkola during the first period of a game in Sunrise on Feb. 20. Tarasenko is back in Ottawa with the Panthers tonight. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Vladimir Tarasenko found himself back in the thick of a playoff race when he was traded to the Florida Panthers last month — and tonight, he is back facing the Ottawa Senators for the first time since that deadline deal.

Tarasenko only played 57 games with the Senators after signing a one-year deal with Ottawa during the offseason.

It was a contract which allowed him the chance to help the Senators make the playoffs, but if they did not, he could be moved for assets.

When it came down to the deadline, he would only waive his no-trade clause to come to Florida where his wife and children made their home in Weston.

So far, so good.

“We have games to play and I have to be focused on them,” said Tarasenko, who has five goals and 10 points in 13 games with the Panthers thus far. “I feel very comfortable. This is a very good group of guys. Everyone has been very supportive. The playoffs are coming, and that is very exciting.’’

Coach Paul Maurice said he enjoys seeing Tarasenko back on the top line with Sasha Barkov after moving things around since the deal.

With Carter Verhaeghe out with an upper-body injury, the Panthers have a spot open for Tarasenko even if it is not his natural right side. That is where Sam Reinhart plays.

“This might be a real good spot for him,” Maurice said. “I put him in the Tkachuk category in that I hated him in St. Louis. The amount of goals he scored from that dot nearly drove me insane, especially during the playoffs. He just has that knack. There is a box around the right faceoff dot, about 15 feet around it, where if the puck is on his stick, you have a real god chance of scoring. He has that elite release, it is hard to find.

“What I have really enjoyed is seeing him talk incessantly with Barkov about hockey on the ice. I love seeing two guys playing together and all they do is talk hockey.”

Florida will be without Verhaeghe again tonight as well as defenseman Aaron Ekblad who apparently aggravated an injury during Tuesday’s loss in Montreal.

Maurice said Ekblad is likely to miss the remainder of the regular season but is “quite confident he is 100 percent ready” for the start of the playoffs.

Matthew Tkachuk, who missed Tuesday with an illness, is back in the lineup to face brother Brady in the latest edition of the Tkachuk Bowl.

The starting goalies tonight are Sergei Bobrovsky and his old Columbus backup, Joonas Korpisalo.

ON DECK

FLORIDA PANTHERS @ OTTAWA SENATORS

PROJECTED FLORIDA PANTHERS (47-24-5) LINEUP

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

21 Nick Cousins // 9 Sam Bennett // 19 Matthew Tkachuk

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

18 Steven Lorentz // 82 Kevin Stenlund // 94 Ryan Lomberg

91 Oliver Ekman-Larsson // 42 Gus Forsling

77 Niko Mikkola // 62 Brandon Montour

28 Josh Mahura // 7 Dmitry Kulikov

72 Sergei Bobrovsky

41 Anthony Stolarz

Scratched: Jonah Gadjovich, Kyle Okposo, Uvis Balinskis, Toby Bjornfot

Injured: Carter Verhaeghe (upper body), Aaron Ekblad (lower body)

PROJECTED OTTAWA SENATORS (33-37-4) LINEUP

7 Brady Tkachuk // 57 Shane Pinto // 19 Drake Batherson

21 Mathieu Joseph // 18 Tim Stutzle // 28 Claude Giroux

13 Jiri Smejkal // 71 Ridley Greig // 81 Dominik Kubalik

14 Boris Katchouk // 12 Mark Kastelic // 27  Parker Kelly

85 Jake Sanderson // 2 Artem Zub

6 Jakob Chychrun // 24 Jacob Bernard-Docker

43 Tyler Kleven // 26 Erik Brannstrom

70 Joonas Korpisalo

31 Anton Forsberg

Scratched:

Injured: Travis Hamonic (lower body); Angus Crookshank (lower body); Josh Norris (shoulder), Matthew Highmore (upper body), Zack MacEwen (lower body), Rourke Chartier (upper body), Thomas Chabot (lower body)

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