‘I’ve been waiting for this’: Panthers captain Sasha Barkov returns following eight-game absence

Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against the Arizona Coyotes at the FLA Live Arena on October 25, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (Joel Auerbach, 2021 Getty Images)

ST. LOUIS – The high-flying Florida Panthers are about to add a couple springs to their already springy step.

Returning to the Panthers lineup following stints on injured reserve are top line center Sasha Barkov and defenseman Gustav Forsling.

They’ll be on the ice Tuesday night when Florida visits the St. Louis Blues to open a three-game road trip.

“It feels great,” Barkov said following Tuesday’s morning skate in St. Louis. “I’ve been waiting for this for a long time.”

Barkov was having a spectacular start to his season when he went down with what appeared to be an injury to his left knee during a 6-1 win over the New York Islanders on Nov. 16.

Islanders defenseman Scott Mayfield caught Barkov with a knee-on-knee hit, one that earned Mayfield a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.

Panthers interim head coach Andrew Brunette said afterwards that Barkov would be week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

It ended up costing Barkov eight games.

To Florida’s credit, they did go a solid 6-2-0 with Barkov out of the lineup.

“It says we’re a really good team” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said of the Panthers’ success with Barkov out of the lineup. “We’re deep and we’re a competitive group. There was an opportunity, and everybody stepped up. I think it says a lot about our group.”

As for Barkov, while obviously wishing he could’ve been out there, he said he enjoyed seeing his teammates succeed without him.

The back-to-back three-goal comebacks may have been a bit much, though.

“I think two was enough,” Barkov said with a smile. “Third one I probably would’ve lost some hair.”

Florida’s captain returns to the lineup having accumulated nine goals and 17 points in 15 games so far this season.

Averaging over 20 minutes per game and playing in all situations, whether its power play, shorthanded, or for important starts in either zone, Barkov’s return is a huge boost for a team already playing like a Stanley Cup favorite.

The same can be said for adding Forsling back to the defensive corps.

The 25-year-old rearguard has been a mainstay in Florida’s top four, with only Aaron Ekblad and MacKenzie Weegar logging more ice time.

Whether it’s pushing the pace and knowing the right times to join the rush or playing solid positional defense both at even strength and on the penalty kill, getting Forsling back will provide a significant boost to Florida’s defensive group.

“I credit our training staff and the will of the players to get back in soon, so it’s good to see them,” said Brunette.

About the Author:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.