May 23, 9:25 am: This morning, head coach Paul Maurice offered more clarity on the situation, saying the Panthers were hopeful for his return during the contest, and the team remains optimistic their captain will make a swift recovery and be back in the lineup soon, with the injury not expected to be long-term, as he told Miami radio station WQAM.
May 22, 8:58 pm: Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman is reporting that Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov left in the first period of game 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals and is questionable to return. Barkov took an innocent looking hit from Jack Drury and missed the final 7:04 of the first period. David Pagnotta of the NHL Network tweeted that Barkov is battling a lower-body injury, and it is still unclear if he will return.
The Panthers captain didn’t come out for the start of the second period, and little is known about his status at this time. Should the former second-overall pick miss any time, it could be a huge blow to the Cinderella story that is the Panthers’ playoff run. Barkov had three points in the first two games of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes, including a goal that Wayne Gretzky called one of the greatest moves he’s seen in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Barkov’s regular season numbers dipped a bit this year, but the 27-year-old center still had 23 goals and 55 assists in 68 games and has 12 points in 14 playoff games thus far.
The timing of the Barkov injury is interesting, given that head coach Paul Maurice mentioned to reporters this morning that the two of the Panthers’ best games this season occurred when Barkov and Sam Bennett were out of the team’s lineup. The Sportsnet broadcast crew brought up this Maurice quote from an interview that now seems ominous given the situation Barkov and Florida are now facing.