The Florida Panthers will try to use the unlikely return of captain Ed Jovanovski to inspire an end to their recent struggles.
The injury-plagued defenseman is expected to play for the first time in nearly 10 months Saturday night against the visiting Nashville Predators.
The 37-year-old Jovanovski could have retired after undergoing hip resurfacing but decided to work his way back into the lineup. Former two-sport star Bo Jackson returned to baseball with an artificial hip in 1993 but Jovanovski is reportedly the first to play after this procedure, which is an alternative to hip replacement.
Since February 2011, the Panthers captain has missed 121 games with various ailments, and he's appeared in only six contests since the beginning of last season.
"My passion for the game is still at a high," Jovanovski said. "I've been positive throughout this, and I'll going to continue to be positive. That's all I can ask for."
While he's only expected to play a handful of minutes, the Panthers (15-20-6) will try to use his return to boost them out of a 1-3-1 stretch. Florida easily dispatched Montreal 4-1 on Sunday but allowed the tying goal of a 2-1 shootout loss Tuesday to the New York Rangers with 2:10 left in regulation.
"We've got to get better," said forward Brad Boyes, who scored Florida's lone goal. "If we keep doing what we're doing, the good things will happen."
The Predators (18-18-5) have seen more positive results of late after dropping a season high-tying five in a row. They recorded back-to-back wins over Los Angeles and Detroit before coming up short in Boston on Thursday.
Shea Weber got the tying goal with 5:25 to go in regulation but the Bruins handed Nashville a 3-2 loss by scoring 54 seconds into overtime.
"We showed a lot of character getting the point back, because the crowd was into it," coach Barry Trotz said. "So it's a big point. But I'm really disappointed that we didn't get the two."
This game will mark the first meeting between Florida coach Peter Horachek, who spent nine seasons as an assistant in Nashville, and Trotz - the only coach in Predators history. Nashville topped the Panthers 4-3 on Oct. 15, but Florida's coach was Kevin Dineen.
Horachek took over after Dineen was fired Nov. 8 and the team has gone 12-11-2.
"I respect the people, coaches and staff (in Nashville)," Horachek said. "They're friends of mine, but I definitely want to win. I'm sure (Trotz) definitely wants to win. I think we'll go and hopefully both teams play well. That's what you want to see."
Nashville has won seven of the last nine meetings with Florida and each of the last two. Mike Fisher has five goals and two assists in his past four matchups with the Panthers, and he has a team-best eight points (three goals, five assists) during his team's 2-0-1 stretch.
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