SUNRISE, Fla. — Florida Panthers‘ captain Aleksander Barkov will be back in the lineup for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday after leaving the first period of Game 3 with a lower-body injury.
The Panthers lead their best-of-seven series with Carolina 3-0 and can reach a Stanley Cup Final for the second time in franchise history with a victory in Wednesday’s tilt.
“Ready to roll,” was how Florida coach Paul Maurice classified Barkov following the Panthers’ morning skate, which Barkov was a full participant in. “Freshest guy on the ice,” he said.
There was 7:04 remaining in the first period of Monday’s game when Barkov took a hip check from Carolina forward Nick Drury and immediately retired to Florida’s dressing room. His return was deemed “questionable” from there.
The shorthanded Panthers went on to beat Carolina 1-0. Maurice joked in explanation for Barkov’s absence that the center was “at a bar mitzvah. … He didn’t want to disappoint the kids.” The Panthers’ coach clarified Tuesday that Barkov’s injury wasn’t serious, and his health status would be reevaluated prior to Game 4, when Florida would make a decision on his availability.
Having Barkov centering the Panthers’ top line again is a major boost. He’s tallied four goals and 12 points in 15 playoff games so far and is Florida’s most trusted performer in the faceoff dot.
It’s not just Barkov’s on-ice abilities that impact the Panthers. Maurice stressed Wednesday morning that Barkov’s leadership and attitude are just as critical for Florida, especially when so much is on the line in this postseason.
“He’s possibly uncomfortable with the idea that he’s talked about more than other players,” said Maurice. “He would think [the other] 13 forwards are every bit as important as he is, and he believes it and that’s the way he treats everybody. Most guys, they think that when they get to that elite level, they do have this kind of ego … but he seems to be completely devoid of ego and still pushes himself very hard. I think a lot of the time he’s a driver for his teammates.”