BOSTON, MA - MARCH 24:  Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers congratulates Jonathan Huberdeau #11 after he scored against the Boston Bruins during the third period at TD Garden on March 24, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Panthers defeat the Bruins 4-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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‘Finally’ healthy, Panthers aim to win two-thirds of remaining games

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) For the Florida Panthers, the 52nd game of the season comes with an opening-night feel.

The lineup is finally whole.

Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov — two of the Panthers’ top offensive players and Jaromir Jagr‘s expected linemates entering the season — are back in the lineup, with their clearances being announced Friday before the Panthers played host to Anaheim. Huberdeau has been out since severing his Achilles tendon in the preseason, and Barkov missed more than a month while recovering from a back injury.

“Finally,” Panthers hockey operations president Dale Tallon said.

Barkov has nine goals and 18 assists in 36 games this season for Florida. Huberdeau had 59 points last season.

“Glad to be back,” Barkov said. “For me, the last month has been about working hard.”

Tallon said the severity of Huberdeau’s injury initially prompted fears that it could have been far worse. He got hurt in Florida’s preseason finale on Oct. 8 at West Point, New York.

Less than four months later, he’s back on the ice.

“The rehab went really well,” Huberdeau said. “For the last few weeks I’ve been feeling pretty good … and now I feel 100 percent and ready to go.”

The moves are timely for the Panthers, who entered Friday four points out of both the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference and third place in the Atlantic Division. The top two wild-card teams and the top three in divisions make the Stanley Cup playoffs.

“We’re in a tough situation,” Tallon said. “We’ve got to win probably two out of every three games going the rest of the way. I’m very proud of our team for keeping themselves in the hunt with all the injuries and all the stuff that’s gone on this year. That shows a lot of character.”

Both were cleared for contact earlier this week and were back on the ice for practice in recent days – though it was believed that they still needed perhaps a couple of more weeks to get ready for games.

Panthers interim coach Tom Rowe lauded the effort of the team’s medical staff to get both players ready.

“It definitely helps,” Rowe said. “They’re part of the team. They’re not the whole team. We expect them to come in and play and help us shoot for a playoff spot.”

Related: With three straight losses, the Leafs have ‘let it slip away’

WATCH LIVE: Capitals at Flyers – Wednesday Night Rivalry

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 21: Tom Wilson #43 of the Washington Capitals checks Brandon Manning #23 of the Philadelphia Flyers during the third period at Wells Fargo Center on December 21, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The latest edition of “Wednesday Night Rivalry” on NBCSN features the Washington Capitals visiting the Philadelphia Flyers.

Both teams have been stumbling a bit here and there. The Flyers only have three wins since Jan. 31, though one of them came in their last game on Sunday. The Capitals lost both games since returning from their bye week.

The cost of struggles are easier for Washington to stomach, naturally. They’d rather make their Metropolitan Division lead insurmountable, but even so, they’re at least three points ahead of everyone else and have played the same or fewer games as their divisional peers.

The Flyers, on the other hand, are fighting for their playoff lives. Right now they’re on the outside looking in.

So both teams want this one, but the desperation level is higher for Philly. We’ll see how that impacts the game on NBCSN tonight. You can also watch online and via the NBC Sports App.

Click here for the livestream.

Pre-game reading: NHLers sound off on poor ice conditions

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— Up top, Danny Briere recalls that famous line brawl between the Flyers and Penguins in the 2012 playoffs. The two Pennsylvania rivals meet again Saturday, outdoors at Heinz Field.

— It has not been a good year for NHL ice, and a number of players are starting to get fed up. For example, Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk, who said, “It’s been awful. I don’t know what it is. Even in our building this year. I thought it was really good [when we came] back for World Cup and right after that for the first little bit. But the last little bit, it’s been so bad. The puck’s all over the place.” Guess we know how he’ll be filling out his survey. (ESPN)

— The days leading up to the trade deadline can be pretty stressful for players who may get moved. And if they do get moved, the days after can be pretty tough, too. “I saw my daughters four days out of three months when I went to Pittsburgh,” said Hurricanes forward Lee Stempniak, who’s been dealt three straight years at the deadline. “When I was traded to Winnipeg, I didn’t see my daughters for the two months or more I was there because of the schedule.” (The News & Observer)

— On the 2017 NHL draft, which may not have the star power of the last two drafts, but will still have some pretty good players available. Especially centers. (USA Today)

— San Jose’s Brent Burns is trying to become only the second defenseman in NHL history to win a scoring title. With 64 points, Burns is only three points back of Connor McDavid for the league lead, with Sidney Crosby in the mix as well. Bobby Orr won the Art Ross Trophy twice, the last time in 1974-75 when he piled up 135 points in 80 games for the Boston Bruins.  (Canadian Press)

— Another Shark, Joe Thornton, is just two assists from 1,000 in the NHL. Only 12 players have accomplished that, with Wayne Gretzky’s 1,963 helpers leading the way. Joe Sakic’s 1,016 are the closest to Thornton’s 998. (The Mercury News)

Enjoy the games!

Bolts rule out Callahan indefinitely following second hip surgery

Ryan Callahan
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Tampa Bay forward Ryan Callahan, who’s only played 18 games this year while recovering from offseason hip surgery, has undergone a follow-up procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely.

The Bolts made the announcement on Wednesday, just hours after a big 4-1 win over Edmonton. Callahan wasn’t in the lineup to face the Oilers — he hasn’t played since early January, when he skated just under 15 minutes in a loss to Philly.

The nature of this ailment has to be concerning.

Callahan, who turns 32 next month, is in the third of a six-year, $34.8 million deal with a $5.8M average annual cap hit. And this lingering hip problem comes on the heels of a disappointing ’15-16 campaign, in which Callahan scored just 10 goals and 28 points — the lowest marks since his rookie campaign.

As such, Tampa Bay is now bracing for an immediate future without a huge part of its leadership group. Captain Steve Stamkos has resumed skating, but there’s no set date for his return from major knee surgery.

Callahan, who’s been an alternate captain in each of the last three seasons, won’t be playing anytime soon either.

 

Kadri ‘not worried’ after Chiarot predicts revenge for big hit (Video)

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Toronto forward Nazem Kadri drew the ire of Jets d-man Ben Chiarot on Tuesday night for a big — albeit questionable — hit in the Leafs’ OT win.

Chiarot was visibly displeased following the game and alluded to getting even.

“It’s not the right time or place to chase him down, but there will be a time down the line,” he said, per Sportsnet. “Might not be this year, might not be next year.

“But there will be a time where the shoe will be on the other foot.”

Today, Kadri responded.

“I’m not worried at all,” Kadri said, per TSN. “I’ll be here for hopefully a few years. But like I said, if that was one of my teammates getting hit like that, I probably wouldn’t be too happy, so I expect that kind of reaction.”

Kadri’s hit, which went unpenalized, drew the ire of Chiarot’s head coach as well. Jets bench boss Paul Maurice was also visibly displeased following the game.

“He’s six inches in the air when he makes contact,” Maurice said, per Sportsnet. “In my mind, from the rear view, the first thing that moves on Benny is the helmet. Didn’t like it.”

Kadri’s been involved in a few high-profile collisions this season. He pasted Sabres captain Brian Gionta in a game earlier this month, and avoided suspension for a controversial hit on Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin back in November.