SUNRISE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers once again could be without key defenseman Jason Garrison in Game 5 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series Saturday.
Garrison, who was a late scratch in Game 4 on Thursday because of a lower-body injury, did not take part in the Panthers’ morning skate Saturday and coach Kevin Dineen said his availability will be determined after pregame warmups.
“He’s still a possibility,” Dineen said. “To put him out there for a 13-minute skate didn’t make a lot of sense this morning. We’ll see where he’s at. He’s questionable for tonight. We’re cautious and we’ll see where we end up.”
The Panthers, who also will be without Keaton Ellerby for Game 5, still had six defensemen on the ice at the morning skate after calling up Tyson Strachan from San Antonio of the AHL.
Ellerby, playing his first game since March 15 as Garrison’s replacement, sustained a lower-body injury in the second period of Game 5.
The 27-year-old Strachan played in 15 regular season games for the Panthers after being called up in January, recording three points and a plus-1 ratio, and was signed to a one-year contract extension the following month.
“He’s played some really strong stretches of hockey, so if needed, certainly he can go in and do the job for us,” Dineen said. “The organization has faith in him. We signed him to a contract after a month here and I think that was very deserving that he came in and showed that he can play a regular shift in the NHL. And if he can do it in the regular season, he can do it in the playoffs.”
Strachan has appeared in 82 NHL games during his career, but has yet to play in a playoff game.
He played in San Antonio’s 5-4 overtime victory against the Chicago Wolves on Thursday in Game 1 of their AHL playoff series and flew to South Florida on Friday.
“There’s mixed emotions about that,” Strachan said of leaving his Rampage teammates behind. “Obviously you want them to be winning down there, but at the same time the chance to be up here and in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a hard one to pass up. Just excited to be here and help out if they need me.”
Garrison, who led all Florida defensemen in the regular season with 16 goals and logged the second-most ice time behind Brian Campbell, clearly is an important player for the Panthers.
But the Devils said they weren’t concerning themselves with Garrison’s status.
“I don’t know exactly who’s in and not in,” captain Zach Parise said. “I don’t know if Garrison (is playing) or who they’ve got in. Regardless, our approach is going to be the same. It’s always been try to make it hard on their D, get it below them, forecheck hard. They’ve got offensive guys that want to jump in the rush, so we’ve got to make it harder for them to do that.”
Teammate Ilya Kovalchuk was more succinct: “It’s their problem, it’s not our problem. We just have to think about our game if he’s playing or not.”