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At the Rink: Panthers at Lightning

by Corey Long

TAMPA -- The Florida Panthers have lost six of their past seven games (1-4-2) but help could come as soon as Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning (7 p.m. ET; FS-F, SUN).

Center Aleksander Barkov, who has missed the past nine games because of an injured right hand, practiced Friday and was on the ice for the morning skate Saturday. Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said Barkov could be a game-time decision.

If Barkov doesn't play Saturday he's expected back in the lineup Monday when the teams play the second game of their home-and-home set at BB&T Center in Sunrise, Fla.

Barkov's injury forced the Panthers to mix their top two lines, with Reilly Smith skating with Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau and Jaromir Jagr shifted to a line with Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen.

Jagr, 43, leads the Panthers (6-7-3) with 13 points in 14 games. Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Jagr is a threat to score no matter who he skates with.

"You going around the sports and it's hard to come up with names of guys ... [NFL star] Charles Woodson ... that just play beyond what you think they could and completely amaze every time they take the ice or take the field," Cooper said. "And [Jagr] is one of those guys. And he's an animal too. He gets the puck on his stick and it's really, really hard to take it off."

Cooper will mix the Lightning lines as well. That includes Vladislav Namestnikov going to the top line with captain Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan. Cooper said Namestnikov, 22, deserves the opportunity.

The hope is the line changes jolt a Tampa Bay (8-8-2) offense that is 18th in the NHL with 42 non-shootout goals.

"I don't like that top line/bottom line vernacular," Cooper said. "We're just trying to find chemistry. [Namestnikov] has really good vision on the ice. He can retrieve pucks and make some plays. He's earned the right to play some more and we have to find him a way [to play more]."

Here are the projected lineups:


Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Reilly Smith

Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Jaromir Jagr

Brandon Pirri - Dave Bolland - Rocco Grimaldi

Quinton Howden - Derek MacKenzie - Garrett Wilson

Brian Campbell - Aaron Ekblad

Willie Mitchell - Erik Gudbranson

Dmitry Kulikov - Alex Petrovic

Roberto Luongo

Al Montoya

Injured: Aleksander Barkov (hand)

Scratched:???Steven Kampfer, Shawn Thornton


Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Ryan Callahan

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Erik Condra

Jonathan Drouin - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Jason Garrison

Matthew Carle - Andrej Sustr

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Injured: Ondrej Palat (ankle)

Scratched: Matt Taormina

Status Report: Taormina was recalled from Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Friday and defenseman Nikita Nesterov was sent to the AHL.

Who's Hot: Stamkos has scored goals in two straight games. ...Huberdeau has one goal and two assists in the past three games.

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