SUNRISE, Fla. - It was the moment the Florida Panthers had been waiting for.
For the first time this season, the roster that Florida's front office had envisioned came together on the ice, as Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov both returned from injury to lead the Panthers to a 2-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday night at the BB&T Center.
"They were unbelievable," Panthers General Manager and Interim Head Coach Tom Rowe said. "We kept watching their fatigue level on the bench. [Panthers Assistant Coach] Dave Barr and I were talking a bit back and forth. He said, 'Hey, they're looking good, so let's keep rolling them out there.' I think we skipped over them two shifts and that was it. Other than that, they were unbelievable for the amount of time, especially [Huberdeau], they've been out."
Huberdeau, the third-overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft, had been out of the lineup since suffering a lower-body injury in a preseason game against the New Jersey Devils in West Point, N.Y., on Oct. 9. Barkov, the second-overall pick in 2013, had missed the last 15 games with an injury of his own.
"I had a lot of fun out there," said Huberdeau, who had career highs in goals (20) and points (59) last season. "It wasn't my best game. I was a little tired by the end. But for my first game, I'm pretty happy with myself and the team. We played pretty well. It was a good team on the other side. [Panthers goaltender James Reimer] made some huge saves at the end. We played a good game overall. I think it just felt good to be back with the guys."
Video: ANA@FLA: Huberdeau scores in season debut
In his first on-ice action of the season, it didn't take long for Huberdeau to shake off any of the cobwebs that may have accumulated during his prolonged absence from the lineup, as the 23-year-old winger notched what would prove to be the game-winning goal at 15:02 of the second period.
"When you miss four months of playing, your first goal is always special," Huberdeau said. "I think that's the way it was tonight. I kind of fanned on [the shot], too, and it went in. I think it felt pretty good. Now, it's just focusing on getting better and stronger."
Barkov, of course, had the primary assist on the play.
"It was nice because I know [Huberdeau] was out for the whole season and the first game he scores a goal," said Barkov, who ranks third on the Panthers with 19 assists this season. "We'd been working hard the last month, building that chemistry off-ice, too; then we scored a goal. It's a pretty amazing feeling for both of us. It was a pretty tough game. Anaheim is a great team, one of the best teams in the league. It was a huge win for us."
With a victory against Anaheim, the Panthers (23-19-10) trail the Boston Bruins by two points for third place in the Atlantic Division with two games in hand. Florida also trails the Philadelphia Flyers by two points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.
"When you get guys back like that that have been out for a while it brings a certain energy and a buzz to the team," Panthers defenseman Jason Demers said. "That enthusiasm, I think it picks up a lot of the morale. I think, especially getting [Huberdeau] and [Barkov] back, I think we downplayed a bit, but it's for sure nice to have them back. They're great players and they've been chomping at the bit and working hard get back."
After a league-mandated bye week, the Panthers will wrap up their four-game homestand with matchup against the Los Angels Kings on Thursday, Feb. 9 at the BB&T Center at 7:30 p.m. ET.