For most of this year, Florida’s injury situation has been rough — but on Wednesday, things took a turn for the better.
D-man Alex Petrovic, out since Nov. 15 with a broken ankle, is expected to return to the lineup when the Panthers host Tampa Bay tomorrow. Also expected back is center Nick Bjugstad, who’s missed the last nine games with a groin issue.
Petrovic, 24, scored one goal and five points in 16 games this year, averaging just under 18 minutes per night. He broke his ankle blocking a shot against Montreal over two months ago, underwent surgery, and has subsequently missed the last 34 contests.
Bjugstad, also 24, has had an injury-plagued campaign. He missed the first 19 games with a broken hand — which pushed his season debut to late November — and appeared in 21 games before injuring his groin.
Unsurprisingly, he’s had a tough time finding his groove this season. Bjugstad has just one goal and two points, well off the good offensive numbers he posted in each of the last two years. He scored a team-high 24 goals in ’14-15, and 15 more last season.
With these two back in the lineup, the Panthers are the healthiest they’ve been in a while. And that’s key, because the club has lost four straight and five of its last six. But thanks to OT losses in Edmonton and Arizona, they’re still in the thick of the playoff chase.
Florida is also still waiting for medical clearance for two of their most prized forwards — Aleksander Barkov, who hasn’t played since Dec. 28 while dealing with an upper-body issue, and Jonathan Huberdeau, who hasn’t played at all after suffering a lacerated Achilles in the preseason.