On April 4, the Florida Panthers finally got their star players back from injury, forwards Aleksander Barkov and Patric Hornqvist. This was a major sigh of relief as the team was getting riddled with injuries in the last couple weeks of March. The team managed to hold their own without their presence as they went 4-2-0 during their missed time. However, that does not mean the team missed them on the ice. Upon their arrival back to the lineup, they made an immediate impact. As of April 4, they currently hold the top spot in not only the Discover Central Division, but in the NHL as a whole.
It’s As If Barkov Never Left
For Barkov, it’s almost as if he never missed a game, as his most recent performance is evident that he was itching to get back into the lineup. Through his first two games back against the Columbus Blue Jackets, he scored one goal and assisted on two more for a total of three points. With that, he has 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) on the current campaign, which is the second-most on the team and 12th in the NHL. Additionally, he’s ninth in the league in goals per game with 1.21 a game and eighth in the league in goals created per game with 0.45 a game.
The captain shows every single night why he’s one of the best centers in the NHL. He’s having one of the best seasons of his career, and his performance is deserving of a Hart Trophy nomination. His effort and leadership will be a big part of making a potentially deep playoff run for the Panthers this upcoming postseason. Additionally, the team is playing around him in a big way.
“Actually, the first game I didn’t feel that good. Obviously, I was happy to be back. That’s why I kind of got through the game. I didn’t feel that good, but the team played well, so it was easy to come back. I felt a little better today, and playing with these linemates and this team, it makes it easier for me.”
– Aleksander Barkov after a 3-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 4, 2021.
Hornqvist Brings the Grit Back
Hornqvist returned to the lineup already going on a point streak. In his first two games back since getting injured against the Chicago Blackhawks on Mar. 25, he tallied two assists. This brings him to a total of 27 points (12 goals, 15 assists) on this season, which makes for fourth on the team.
Even though he’s missed some time, Hornqvist continues to hold some of his stats on the leaderboard. He’s tied for ninth overall for power-play goals with seven and 14th with shots on goal.
Since his trade for Mike Matheson this past offseason, he’s brought something the Panthers have been missing for a very long time in the form of toughness. The 34-year-old brings his grit every single night, and it’s paid massive dividends at even strength and on the man-advantage for Florida. Additionally, his playoff experience will guide the rest of the team through the speed bumps on the road, as he can give great advice on how to handle key situations.
Florida’s Tough Road Ahead
The Panthers have a tough upcoming couple of weeks. This week, they’ll be taking on the Carolina Hurricanes and then the Dallas Stars in a back-to-back to finish up the weekend. Florida has struggled mightily against Carolina, going 1-1-2 on the year so far. As for Dallas, they’ve gotten the best of them for the most part, going 4-1-0 through five games against them.
The next week, they would be taking on their in-state rivals, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. They’ve been pretty even, all things considered, as they are 2-2-0 against the Bolts. This matchup will be advertised as a massive showdown as it could mean first place in the NHL is on the line.
Playoffs in the Future?
While they have yet to officially clinch their spot in this upcoming postseason, their success through this shortened season nearly guarantees their ticket punched. At 56 points on the year so far, Moneypuck.com has them at a 99.94 chance to make the playoffs. Although, crazy things have happened this season, especially in the Central. Because of that, Florida must be able to handle their upcoming test. If they fail to do so, the league will see them as pretenders.
My name is Joey. I’ve been writing about the NHL for about 3 years with my experience spread out between TSJ 101 Sports and Panther Parkway. I look forward to you reading my articles!