SUNRISE, Fla. -- Almost 18 months after his last game with the Florida Panthers, forward Sean Bergenheim will make his long-awaited return Friday against the Buffalo Sabres.
Bergenheim hasn't played in an NHL game since Game 7 of the 2012 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals between the Panthers and New Jersey Devils, missing all of last season and the first 10 games this season because of abdomen, groin and hip issues.
"It's been a while, but I don't feel that it's been that long," Bergenheim said after the Panthers' morning skate. "When I look at how many months it's been since I played, I don't feel that on the ice. I don't feel it's been that long. I'm really happy to be back. For sure, I missed this.
"I'm not nervous right now, but I'm sure I'll get some butterflies before the game here. … [I'm] just feeling really good and ready. That's the feeling I have right now."
Bergenheim had a career-best 17 goals in the 2011-12 season, and three goals and three assists in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but the injury kept him from building on that success.
That's in the past, though, and the Panthers are hoping Bergenheim once again can contribute the way he did two seasons ago.
"The last we saw him as a player he was an extremely effective player for us," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "He really changed the tempo of Game 7 [against the Devils] with his play in the third period.
"I'd love to see him, even though it was a long time ago, pick up right where he left off as a Florida Panther."
Bergenheim will skate Friday on a line with veteran Scott Gomez and Jesse Winchester.
"It's great to have him back in the lineup," forward Tomas Fleischman said. "He's one of the best clutch guys on the ice. He's like a bulldog playing out there. Sometimes when the game is getting close he always brings his best and everybody sees that. We're just excited to have him in the lineup [Friday]."
With forwards Patrick Kaleta and John Scott suspended, the Sabres will use seven defensemen Friday.
"That's kind of where we're at right now with the roster," Sabres coach Ron Rolston said after his team's morning skate. "We'll have seven back there. If anything happens up front then we can move a guy up there."
Cody McCormick, who had missed the past two games, will return to the lineup and skate on the fourth line. To open a roster spot, center Kevin Porter was sent to the American Hockey League.
Here are the projected lineups the Sabres and Panthers will use Friday at BB&T Center:
Thomas Vanek - Cody Hodgson - Drew Stafford
Tyler Ennis - Marcus Foligno - Steve Ott
Zemgus Girgensons - Johan Larsson - Brian Flynn
Cody McCormick - Mikhail Grigorenko
Christian Ehrhoff - Mark Pysyk
Nikita Zadorov - Tyler Myers
Henrik Tallinder - Mike Weber
Scratched: Rasmus Ristolainen
Suspended: Patrick Kaleta, John Scott
Injured: Ville Leino (rib)
Tomas Fleischmann - Aleksander Barkov - Kris Versteeg
Jonathan Huberdeau - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes
Shawn Matthias - Marcel Goc - Tomas Kopecky
Sean Bergenheim - Scott Gomez - Jesse Winchester
Dmitry Kulikov - Brian Campbell
Tom Gilbert - Mike Weaver
Matt Gilroy - Erik Gudbranson
Injured: Ed Jovanovski (lower body), Steven Pinizzotto (lower body), Tim Thomas (lower body)
Scratched: Scottie Upshall, Ryan Whitney, Krys Barch