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Weiss not ready to return for banged-up Panthers

by Alain Poupart /
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida Panthers center Stephen Weiss will miss his second consecutive game Tuesday night because of an upper-body injury.

Weiss, who was called "the heartbeat" of the Panthers by coach Kevin Dineen earlier this season, was injured in Thursday night's 4-3 overtime loss at Ottawa. He sat out the Panthers' 8-0 shutout loss at Boston the following night.

"He had a good skate this morning, but we're not going to go with Stephen until he's 100 percent ready to go," Dineen said after the morning skate. "He's just been too valuable for us. His heart has been telling him that he's getting close to return, so we'll make the final decision for him."

Weiss is second on the Panthers in scoring with 32 points (11 goals, 21 assists) and leads all forwards in playing time with an average of 20:36.

"He's a very versatile player," Dineen said. "There's players that have maybe different skill sets that stick out more in the League, but certainly as a coach you just keep banging on that drum because he's an easy guy to reach for in all key situations."

Weiss is one of seven injured forwards on the Panthers, along with Scottie Upshall, Marcel Goc, Jack Skille, Sean Bergenheim, Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm.

The Panthers were so shorthanded up front in the loss at Boston that rookie defenseman Erik Gudbranson was moved to right wing.

Dineen said Tuesday that Gudbranson, the third pick in the 2010 Draft, actually might have been the team's best forward on that forgettable night.

"It was fun, it was a lot of fun," Gudbranson said of the experience. "Change it up a little. I just went down low and tried to use my size and change the tide a little bit. I certainly enjoyed it. It's something that gives you experience and you can learn a lot of things and bring stuff back to defense with them.

"If we have a full lineup, I don't think he wants me up front because there's a few better hockey players up there. As of now, I look at it as a way to learn, a way to develop, work on quick feet, work on quick hands and in tight situations. That's how I’m looking at it."

The Panthers will have 12 forwards for Tuesday night's game after Mark Cullen was recalled from San Antonio for a second time this season. He'll be one of five forwards in the Florida lineup whose season began in the AHL.

"We've played through injuries this entire season," wing Kris Versteeg said. "We haven't had a full lineup this entire season. We don't know what it's like to play fully healthy, but we have guys that have come in and have stepped up to the challenge. They've been doing a great job for us so far and we're going to need it again tonight with a couple more guys going down, Weiss going down.

"We're going to need another guy to step up down the middle and win some big draws for us and score some big goals and make big plays. That's how we're going to beat a team like Toronto."
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