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Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau to return

Panthers forwards cleared to play, will rejoin lineup Friday against Ducks

by Alain Poupart / Correspondent

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau will play Friday at home against the Anaheim Ducks (7:30 p.m. ET; FS-F, PRIME, NHLTV).

"As of today they have been cleared to return to our lineup and are ready to play," Panthers president of hockey operations Dale Tallon said. "They are two of our young cornerstone players and have been adamant about getting back to game action. It's exciting to have our team returning to full health as we continue our push to the [Stanley Cup] Playoffs."

Barkov, 21, has missed 15 games with a back injury. Huberdeau, 23, will be making his 2016-17 season debut. He missed 51 games with an Achilles injury.

READ: Fantasy impact of Barkov and Huberdeau's return

"We're not going to come here and we're going to win for sure because me and [Barkov] are back," Huberdeau said. "It's a team game and I think we're just pieces of the puzzle and we're just coming in and trying to play our game. We're going to try to keep it simple tonight."

Barkov has nine goals and 27 points in 36 games this season and led the Panthers in scoring during November and December. He had 59 points last season, tied for third on Florida.

Huberdeau had NHL career highs in goals (20) and points (59) last season.

"It definitely helps," Panthers coach Tom Rowe said. "Obviously, two really good players, but they're part of the team, they're not the whole team. We expect them to come in and play and help us keep shooting for a playoff spot."

Florida (22-19-10) is four points out of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference, trailing the Philadelphia Flyers, who hold the spot, and the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have a one-point lead on the Panthers with two games in hand. Florida is four points behind the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division and has three games in hand.

"I'm very proud of our team for keeping themselves in the hunt with all the injuries and all the stuff that's gone on this year," Tallon said. "Our players have really kept to it. They've shown a lot of character. They've played extremely hard and well most nights and kept themselves in the playoff hunt with all the injuries. If we can get [Barkov and Huberdeau] back in game shape quicker than normal, that'll help us get to our goal."

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