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Vatanen Likely Returns to Lineup Tonight vs. Panthers

by Kyle Shohara @kyleshohara /

Having had enough of the popcorn and pretzels in the press box, Sami Vatanen is expected to return to the lineup tonight as the Ducks host the Florida Panthers at Honda Center. The likeable defenseman jokingly said the snacks added a few pounds during his time recovering from a lower-body injury suffered against the Panthers back on February 3 at BB&T Center.

"I can't wait to play again," said Vatanen, who missed five games with the injury. "It all feels good. It's just a normal game. Just going to try to help the team win. That's always my goal."

After reassigning Shea Theodore to the San Diego Gulls earlier today, the Ducks could dress a d-core that has four right-handed shooting defensemen, including Vatanen, Kevin Bieksa, Josh Manson and one of Brandon Montour or Korbinian Holzer. The skate this morning was optional, so we'll have to wait until pregame warmups to get a clearer picture of the d-pairings.

John Gibson will make his fifth consecutive start tonight while the Panthers are likely countering with Roberto Luongo. Jonathan Bernier came down with a case of the flu last night, according to head coach Randy Carlyle, so he stayed home this morning, but is expected to back-up Gibson tonight.

"It was a long trip, but we got through it," said Corey Perry. "These are tough games to come back from after 14 days on the road and trying to get ready for one at home. We have to be ready tonight. We'll have a team that's ready to play."

It could be a long night if the Ducks aren't ready from the start. The Panthers enter tonight's game feeling confident with their game after potting 13 goals over their last two - a 7-4 victory in Nashville last Saturday and a 6-5 overtime win two nights ago in San Jose. Florida got a huge boost when Aleksander Barkov returned from a lengthy absence due to injury and Jonathan Huberdeau made his season debut - both of which occurred in the club's 2-1 victory over the Ducks on February 3. The Panthers, who have won four of their last five games, sit three points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for the second and final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and four points behind the Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division.

"Last game we gave up a bunch of chances, but we defended really well especially around our own net," said Bieksa, referring to their 1-0 victory in Minnesota on Tuesday. "We were good on rebounds and good at boxing out. We let Gibby see most of the shots. We can't let these guys have too many chances. You play these teams in the East and they're a little bit more risky offensively. They get a lot of two-on-ones and three-on-twos. That's something you can't give up against a team that's scoring six or seven goals a game."

One lineup change expected for the Panthers is Gregg McKegg replacing former Ducks center Michael Sgarbossa in the lineup tonight, according to general manager/interim head coach Tom Rowe.

Potential Line Combinations







Video: The Ducks return home to face the Florida Panthers

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