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At the Rink: Panthers at Canadiens

by Sean Farrell

MONTREAL -- Florida Panthers defenseman Erik Gudbranson is looking forward to making the most of his return to the lineup against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; TVA, CITY, FS-F).

Gudbranson was a healthy scratch Thursday for Florida's 4-1 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre.

"It was a difficult pill to swallow but it is what it is and it's over with," the 22-year-old defenseman said after the Panthers' optional morning skate Saturday. "I'm in the lineup (Saturday) and we've got a huge game to play."

Florida coach Gerard Gallant said he is looking for solid play from Gudbranson following a tough outing Tuesday in a 4-3 loss at the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"(Gudbranson) is a good, solid defenseman, a physical defenseman," Gallant said. "He had a tough game the other night but hey, that happens, move on and he's a big part of our club so he's back in (Saturday) and we expect him to play hard and play well, and he knows what type of game we like him to play."

Gudbranson, who was the Panthers' first-round pick (No. 3) in the 2010 NHL Draft, said he was surprised about being sat.

"I've been playing really good hockey this year," Gudranson said. "I've been playing the best that I have since I've been in the NHL and I've felt confident about it. I've kind of found how I'm going to be successful in this League and that's playing good players really hard and making nights difficult on them.

"The message was sent and I'm going to play the way that I need to be and play hard and just make it impossible for them to take me out of the lineup again."

Gallant won't be getting center Nick Bjugstad back this season. Bjugstad, who missed Florida's past two games, had season-ending back surgery Friday.

"For me it was day-to-day every day and I didn't know, and then all of a sudden some tests showed up and they figured the best thing to do was to get the surgery done and get it out of the way," Gallant said. "I don't think it's a major thing but it's good to get the surgery done and he's going to be 100 percent for next year and he's got lots of time to rehab, so that's a positive thing about the whole thing, but it was a bit of a surprise when I knew he was going to be shut down for the year."

Bjugstad, who leads the Panthers with 24 goals, had 43 points in 72 games before the nagging injury forced him out of the lineup.

"We knew he was battling pretty hard and he was giving us everything he had," right wing Bradon Pirri said. "So we were happy we had that. But it's unfortunate. He's a big part of our team, but it's more opportunities for other guys to step up. We know that he'd be giving us everything he had if he was playing, so we're going to do the same."

Florida is three points behind the Ottawa Senators for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"They will come with their best effort (Saturday)," Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban said. "It will be another tight game against them. The last time we played them, Luongo wasn't in the net but I'm sure he will be there (Saturday). He always plays well when he is here, so we've got to be ready to put pucks on the net and try to get in front of it. If we don't do that, it will be an easy night for him."

Montreal can clinch a playoff berth with a win against the Panthers, or with a point from an overtime or shootout loss to Florida if the Boston Bruins defeat the New York Rangers in a shootout.

The Canadiens would clinch a playoff spot prior to that if Boston loses to the Rangers.

Here are the projected lineups:

PANTHERS

Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr

Jimmy Hayes - Vincent Trocheck - Brandon Pirri

Jussi Jokinen - Dave Bolland - Brad Boyes

Scottie Upshall - Derek MacKenzie - Tomas Kopecky

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Scratched: Steven Kampfer, Shawn Thornton

Injured: Nick Bjugstad (back surgery), Al Montoya (groin)

CANADIENS

Max PaciorettyDavid DesharnaisPierre-Alexandre Parenteau

Alex GalchenyukTomas PlekanecBrendan Gallagher

Jacob De La RoseLars EllerBrian Flynn

Brandon PrustTorrey MitchellDale Weise

Andrei MarkovP.K. Subban

Alexei EmelinJeff Petry

Nathan BeaulieuGreg Pateryn

Carey Price

Dustin Tokarski

Scratched: Devante Smith-Pelly, Sergei Gonchar, Manny Malhotra, Mike Weaver

Injured: Tom Gilbert (upper body)

Status report: Gallant will keep his second line intact. "(Trocheck) has played a lot of games with us this year and he's played real well with his linemates," Gallant said. "Obviously (Bjugstad) is a big loss but we've had a few games now without him but the team's playing well and working hard." … With Flynn on the third line, Smith-Pelly is being left out of the lineup after playing 15 games for the Canadiens since he was acquired in a trade with the Anaheim Ducks on Feb. 24. He has one assist with Montreal, and five goals and 13 assists in 69 games.

Who's hot: Pirri has 17 goals in his past 22 games. He has seven goals and 31 shots on goal in his past seven games. Gallagher has scored a goal in four straight games.

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