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Panthers will probably get back Barkov tonight

Feb 1, 2014, 1:13 PM EDT

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NEWARK, NJ - JANUARY 11: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers waits in an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center on January 11, 2014 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils won 2-1. (Photo by Paul Bereswill/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Florida Panthers have dropped three of their last four games, but should get some help for tonight’s contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets as forward Aleksander Barkov is projected to return, according to Steve Goldstein.

Barkov has missed four straight matches due to a knee injury. The 18-year-old rookie, who was taken with the second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, has eight goals and 24 points in 50 contests this season. That makes him one of the Panthers’ top offensive threats, which really underscores just how bad a year it’s been for them.

Erik Gudbranson might also end up playing tonight. He’s spent three straight contests in the press box after coach Peter Horachek suggested that the 22-year-old defenseman has played poorly since he started wearing a full cage. Gudbranson has been forced to do so because he underwent orbital bone surgery in December.

Really, these changes mean more for the Blue Jackets than Florida itself. With a 21-26-7 record, the Panthers’ odds of making the playoffs are slim, but Columbus is still in a fierce battle for a postseason spot.

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