SUNRISE, Fla. – When Florida Panthers captain Sasha Barkov was being helped off the ice on Tuesday night at FLA Live Arena, players, executives and fans alike were all holding their collective breaths.
Florida’s best player, their leader, the face of the franchise…was hurt.
How badly? No one knew.
All there was to know was what we saw with our eyes.
Barkov went down after taking a knee-to-knee hit from New York Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield, one that Panthers Interim Head Coach Andrew Brunette called “reckless” but not malicious or intentional.
Barkov needed help getting off the ice and was favoring his left leg as he slowly made his way to Florida’s locker room.
About an hour later, the Panthers officially announced that Barkov had a lower-body injury and would not be returning to the ice.
That was fine for the game; Florida was up 4-0 when Mayfield, leading with his knee, collided with Barkov. He was issued a five minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
The Panthers went on to win 6-1, but the more concerning matter was that of Barkov’s injury.
On Wednesday morning, about 15 hours after the hit, everyone was able to breathe a sigh of relief when informed by Brunette that Barkov would not need surgery.
That meant Barkov had seemingly avoided any serious damage and would potentially be out for weeks, and not months.
“It’s the best case scenario,” Brunette said. “It could’ve been worse. We’ll deal with it as we go.”
Officially, Barkov is week-to-week with a lower-body injury.
He’ll surely be missed by the Panthers, who lead the NHL with 25 points and an 11-2-3 record.
Florida’s depth has already been tested throughout the young season, with several key players, including Barkov, Sam Bennett, Sergei Bobrovsky, Joe Thornton, Noel Acciari and Mason Marchment having missed decent chunks of time.
“Barky is irreplaceable, as we all know, but they have guys that can step up,” said Brunette. “Definitely we have some guys that can be first line centers in this league, and we’re very fortunate to have the depth we have.”
If Wednesday’s practice lines were any indication, it appears the first guy to get a crack at Barkov’s spot centering the top line is Sam Bennett.
Last season Bennett saw a good amount of success centering a line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Anthony Duclair, and it appears the trio will be counted on once more to lead Florida’s offensive attack.
Impressive rookie Anton Lundell slid up to the second line center spot, flanked by Carter Verhaeghe on his left and Sam Reinhart on his right. That line could be a lot of fun to watch considering the playmaking prowess of Lundell and Verhaeghe, and the lethal, quick released shot of Reinhart.
Thornton, who has been nearing a return from IR, was centering the third line between Frank Vatrano and Owen Tippett. Brunette indicated that Thornton could be in Florida’s lineup when they host the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
“We’ll see how he feels after the skate today and see how he feels tomorrow morning,” Brunette said of Thornton. “We just want to make sure he’s 110 percent.”
The fourth line featured Eetu Luostarinen centering Ryan Lomberg and Patric Hornqvist, a line that generated a lot of offense Tuesday against the Islanders. The group combined for two goals and an assist, five shots on goal and a +7 on-ice rating.
Brunette admitted after the game that he gets a little extra pleasure when Lomberg finds the back of the net.
“I love watching Lomby score,” Brunette said through a grin. “It kinda makes my day.”