Panthers won’t have Barkov for huge game against Maple Leafs

The Florida Panthers will not have their best player on Monday night when they visit the Toronto Maple Leafs for a huge game in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Coach Joel Quenneville announced that Aleksander Barkov will not be available for the game due to a lower-body injury.

The Panthers are currently listing him as day-to-day.

Barkov was injured in the Panthers’ loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday when he was hit by Shea Weber. He exited the game mid-way through the second period and did not return. It is going to leave a huge hole in the middle of the Panthers’ lineup on Monday. He is second on the team in scoring with 54 points, is their best defensive forward, and plays more minutes than any other forward on the team by a fairly significant margin.

Bad timing for the Panthers

There is never a good time for the Panthers to be without Barkov, but the timing here could not possibly be worse. Even though they have won six out of their past seven games they still enter Monday on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, two points back of Toronto for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.

This is your classic “four-point game” where a regulation win for one team would be a pretty significant swing in the standings. A regulation win for Florida would give them the current tiebreaker edge over Toronto. A regulation loss puts them four points back (with still two games in hand). And no, it’s not too early to start worrying about that. Especially since the Panthers are entering a pretty significant portion of their schedule. Their next seven games are against Toronto, Columbus, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia (twice), Vegas, and one game against New Jersey mixed in.

Not only are six of those games against potential playoff teams, four of them (Toronto, Columbus, two against Philadelphia) are against teams they are directly competing with for a spot.

Related: Barkov leaves game as Panthers’ winning streak ends

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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