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Aaron Ekblad Expected To Return To Panthers Lineup Friday

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SUNRISE (CBSMiami) – It's currently a tale of two streaks for the Florida Panthers.

After going on a twelve game winning streak that vaulted the team to the top of the Atlantic Division standings, the Panthers have now lost four straight games.

The one constant through the losing skid is that defenseman Aaron Ekblad, last season's Calder Trophy winner as the NHL's top rookie, has missed all four games.

When Florida won its last game of the winning streak, a 2-1 victory over the Edmonton Oilers, Ekblad was crushed into the boards by Matt Hendricks and suffered a concussion.

Hendricks wasn't penalized on the play but he was subsequently suspended by the league for three games because of the hit.

Ekblad was medically cleared to return to the ice on Wednesday and he took part in the Panthers practice at the team's training facility in Coral Springs.

He is expected to return to the lineup when Florida hosts the red-hot Chicago Blackhawks on Friday at the BB&T Center.

"I didn't think we were going to miss him that much but we did," said forward Jaromir Jagr. "Not only is he great defensively, but he helps offensively. That's what you need when you're losing a game. Everyone needs to help offensively. And he's one of those guys who can do it."

Florida's offense could definitely use a boost.

The team has scored just six goals in its last five games and hasn't scored a power play goal since January 2nd against the New York Rangers, an 0-for-23 stretch.

Head coach Gerard Gallant took extra time during Wednesday's practice to work on the man advantage and was seen yelling at the team during drills.

"We're trying out some new things and I wanted to get through to them," said Gallant. "You give them the message. Details are a big part of it."

Florida still has a three-point lead in the Atlantic Division but the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning are both gaining ground.

The Panthers have a tough weekend ahead, with the two Stanley Cup finalists from last season, the Blackhawks and Tampa Bay, coming to Sunrise on Friday and Saturday night.


The Panthers face the Chicago Blackhawks on Friday, January 22nd at 7:30 p.m. You can hear every game on Sports Radio 560 WQAM, the radio home of the Florida Panthers.


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