SENATORS (31-29-8) at PANTHERS (36-21-9)
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET; RDS2, TSN5, FS-F, NHL.TV
SUNRISE, Fla. - Goalie Craig Anderson will make his return Thursday when the Ottawa Senators face the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center.
The Senators did not have a morning skate, but coach Dave Cameron confirmed Anderson would start in a media briefing at the team hotel.
Anderson has missed the past four games because of a knee injury he sustained March 1 during a 4-3 shootout loss to the St. Louis Blues. Anderson, who played for Florida from 2006-09, is 12-5-2 against his former team with a 2.04 goals-against average, .935 save percentage and three shutouts.
With Anderson available, the Senators sent goalie Chris Driedger to Binghamton of the American Hockey League.
Cameron announced two additional lineup changes: defenseman Patrick Wiercioch and forward Matt Puempel will replace Chris Wideman and Nick Paul, respectively.
Wiercoch missed the past two games with an upper-body injury; Puempel was a healthy scratch the past four games after the acquisition of veteran forward Scott Gomez.
The Panthers also will have changes to their lineup when center Derek MacKenzie returns after missing five games with an upper-body injury.
"He's a big part of our group," Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "He kills penalties, he's a hard worker on that fourth line. He's an effective player. He works hard every shift and competes hard, and he's a big team leader for us. He's not a big guy, but he finishes his check all the time. He's a competitive guy who plays real hard for us and he's an important guy in our locker room."
MacKenzie is expected to skate on a line with Garrett Wilson and Shawn Thornton.
Logan Shaw, who centered the fourth line in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Boston Bruins on Monday, will move to right wing on the third line with Nick Bjustad and Jiri Hudler.
Rookie Kyle Rau, who skated with Bjugstad and Hudler against Boston, is expected to be a healthy scratch.
Veteran forward Teddy Purcell, acquired in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers on Feb. 27, will miss his second game because of a groin injury. Gallant described his status as day-to-day.
Florida is two points behind the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston in the Atlantic Division, but have a game in hand on the Lightning and two on the Bruins.
The Panthers are 1-3-2 in their past six games, a run that dropped them out of first place this week after they had held that spot since Jan. 2.
"It's going to be important for this team to have some positive momentum rolling into what hopefully is going to be a good postseason run," MacKenzie said. "On the flip side of that, we've been here before. There's certainly no panic in this room. Our name, the Panthers, might not be at the top where we've been used to reading it, but we still feel pretty good about ourselves."
Ottawa is 1-2-2 in its past five games and coming off a 3-2 shootout loss to the Carolina Hurricanes after allowing the game-tying goal with 0.2 seconds left.
The Senators have 70 points, five behind the Detroit Red Wings for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They have played two more games than the Red Wings.
Florida won two of their first three games against Ottawa this season.
Forward Mike Hoffman's go-ahead goal with 5:30 left in the third period gave the Senators a 4-2 win Dec. 8. Forward Mark Stone had three assists and Anderson made 25 saves.
Forward Aleksander Barkov scored the winning goal in a shootout for a 2-1 Panthers victory Dec. 22. Forwards Reilly Smith and Vincent Trocheck scored eight seconds apart, and Roberto Luongo made 30 saves, when the Panthers extended their winning streak to 11 games with a 3-2 victory Jan. 7.
Here are the projected lineups:
Zack Smith - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Mark Stone
Matt Puempel - Mika Zibanejad - Alex Chiasson
Ryan Dzingel - Scott Gomez - Bobby Ryan
Mike Hoffman - Curtis Lazar - Chris Neil
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci
Michael Kostka - Patrick Wiercioch
Scratches: Nick Paul, Chris Wideman
Injuries: Mark Borowiecki (knee), Chris Phillips (back), Clarke MacArthur (concussion), Kyle Turris (ankle)
Jonathan Huberdeau - Aleksander Barkov - Jaromir Jagr
Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith
Jiri Hudler - Nick Bjugstad - Logan Shaw
Garrett Wilson - Derek MacKenzie - Shawn Thornton
Dmitry Kulikov - Aaron Ekblad
Brian Campbell - Erik Gudbranson
Jakub Kindl - Alex Petrovic
Injured: Teddy Purcell (lower body), Willie Mitchell (upper body), Dave Bolland (lower body)
Scratches: Quinton Howden, Kyle Rau, Steven Kampfer
Status report: Mitchell again took part in the morning skate but will miss his 21st game and Gallant said it could be a while longer before he's ready to return. "Willie is not ready to play yet," Gallant said. "I don't know how long it's going to be. I don't want to bring up Willie every day. It's been a long time. Willie is not in the near future, but let's say week-by-week." … Rau will be a healthy scratch for the first time since making his NHL debut Feb. 20 against the Winnipeg Jets. He has yet to score a point through eight games.
Who's hot: Jokinen has a nine-game point streak (one goal, eight assists), the longest by a Panthers player this season. … Barkov has three goals and four assists in his past seven games. … Zack Smith has four goals and two assists during a six-game point streak.