Panthers’ Aaron Ekblad likely out for regular season, expected back for playoffs

The Florida Panthers will likely be without key defenseman Aaron Ekblad for the rest of the regular season, but there is hope he will return in time for the postseason, coach Paul Maurice said.

“I don’t think he plays the rest of the regular season,” Maurice said, according to ESPN. “But we are quite confident that he’s 100 percent and ready to go by the (playoffs).”

Maurice did not disclose what Ekblad’s injury is, but he said the defenseman has a “handle” on the recovery process.

“This is not new and it’s not unknown to us, what it is,” Maurice said, according to “He’s got a real good handle on how long it’s going to take and he’s progressing really well from it, so we’re getting there. We’re going to miss him.”

Ekblad, a veteran defender in his 10th year in he NHL, has four goals and 14 assists this season. He has a plus-minus of plus-27.

The Panthers are also missing center Carter Verhaeghe, who is fourth on the team with 71 points, due to an upper-body injury. Maurice said the team is also confident he will return for the postseason.

“We have lots of confidence he’ll be ready for start of the playoffs,” Maurice said. “He may make the last (regular season) game, but we don’t think he’ll play many regular-season games.”

The Panthers have five games left in the regular season, closing out the season with a home game against Toronto on April 16. Florida, which is second in the Atlantic Division with 101 points, has already clinched a playoff spot. The Panthers are tied for third in the Eastern Conference, trailing only Boston and New York.