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Like They Never Left

by Alain Poupart / Florida Panthers
Forward Sean Bergenheim celebrates a goal at BB&T Center against the Nashville Predators (Getty Images).

After scoring the game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars on Sunday with a nifty backhand redirect of a pass from defenseman Colby Robak, Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim reflected on his comeback season.

In essence, Bergenheim said it was nice to prove he still could be an effective player in the National Hockey League after missing all of the 2013 season. While he hasn’t expressed those thoughts to the media himself, Jesse Winchester could say the same thing. Like Bergenheim, he was out of the National Hockey League last season and has bounced back this season with a strong performance.

When it comes to Winchester, his contributions are more subtle, playing soundly in all three zones. Winchester sure has made his share of plays in the offensive zone, particularly during a four-game stretch in late January when he had two goals and three assists. Included in that stretch was a three-assist performance in the 5-1 victory at Pittsburgh, no doubt one of the Panthers’ best efforts of the season.

Winchester, signed as a free agent last summer, has been valuable mostly because of his two-way game. No forward on the Panthers roster has spent more time killing penalties this season and Winchester usually is the first forward on the ice in those situations.

As for Bergenheim, he’s second on the team with 16 goals, one shy of his career-high. He scored 17 in 2011-12 in his first season with the Panthers while cementing his reputation as a clutch playoff performer with three goals and three assists in the seven-game series against the New Jersey Devils.

But it’s been a tough road Since then it was a tough road for Bergenheim, one that left everyone wondering when and if he could be a factor again for the Panthers. That’s clearly what he’s done this season, holding a spot on the top line for most of the season.

The Panthers were at their best offensively this season when the trio of Bergenheim, Brad Boyes and Aleksander Barkov really started clicking. Each player brings a unique skill set, and Bergenheim’s forte always has been his relentlessness and willingness to get close to the net.

With so much of the focus, and rightfully so, on the Panthers’ young guns and up-and-coming prospects, it’s easy to overlook the contributions of some of the veterans. But Bergenheim and Winchester clearly were factors this season.

In the process, both players enjoyed a nice comeback to the NHL.

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