Qualifiers Buzz: Huberdeau likely for Panthers in Game 4 vs. Islanders


Welcome to the Stanley Cup Qualifiers Buzz. The Qualifiers are in full swing, with games starting Aug. 1 in hub cities Toronto (Eastern Conference) and Edmonton (Western Conference), and will continue through Sunday. There are 23 teams still playing for the Stanley Cup after the New York Rangers were eliminated Tuesday. 

Here’s a look around the NHL at the latest from the Qualifiers:

Florida Panthers

Jonathan Huberdeau is expected to be in the lineup when the Panthers play Game 4 of the best-of-5 Stanley Cup Qualifiers series against the New York Islanders at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto on Friday (Noon ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, FS-F, MSG+).

Huberdeau missed the final 5:02 of a 3-2 win in Game 3 after sustaining what appeared to be a lower-body injury. As part of the NHL Return to Play Plan, a team is not permitted to disclose player injury or illness information.

“Good progress today,” coach Joel Quenneville said Thursday, “and right now we’re looking for him to be ready to go.”

The Islanders would advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs and eliminate the Panthers with a win in Game 4 in Toronto, the Eastern Conference hub city. 

Quenneville said it’s also possible Florida will reinsert some of the regulars who were healthy scratches for Game 3, including defenseman Mike Matheson and forwards Frank Vatrano and Colton Sceviour.

The Panthers used five players in Game 3 who were scratched for Game 2; defensemen Josh Brown and Riley Stillman replaced Matheson and Brady Keeper, and forwards Dominic Toninato, Lucas Wallmark and Dryden Hunt replaced Vatrano, Sceviour and Aleksi Saarela.

“We’ll talk about it,” Quenneville said. “We’ll look at our options. We’ll make our decisions tomorrow.” — Dan Rosen

Video: Jackie with the latest on the Panthers and Islanders


Carolina Hurricanes

Dougie Hamilton returned to practice Thursday.

The defenseman had not practiced since July 22 when he left the ice in discomfort during power-play drills. He did not play during Carolina’s three-game sweep of the New York Rangers in the Qualifiers. He skated on his own after practice in Toronto on July 31.

Hamilton hasn’t played since having surgery Jan. 17 to repair a fractured left fibula. He scored 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists) in 47 games this season.

The Hurricanes will play the Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals or Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs, which are set to begin Aug. 11. The Bruins, Flyers, Capitals and Lightning are playing in the round-robin portion of the Qualifiers to determine the top four seeds in the East. 

Tweet from @MSmithCanes: Dougie Hamilton is on the ice for #Canes practice today. pic.twitter.com/t8JOEqI4zM


Montreal Canadiens

Jake Evans is doubtful to play for the Canadiens when they try to eliminate the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the best-of-5 qualifier series Friday (4 p.m. ET; NBCSN, NHL.TV, SN, TVAS, ATTSN-PT). 

The rookie forward left his NHL postseason debut with 7:18 remaining in the second period of Montreal’s 4-3 win in Game 3 in Toronto on Wednesday when he was checked into the boards by Penguins forward Brandon Tanev.

“I haven’t heard much since last night,” coach Claude Julien said Thursday. “Obviously, he got rocked on that hit. I would say right now doubtful for tomorrow. If that’s the case, we’ll see what we want to do here with our lineup. I haven’t made that decision yet.”

The series winner advances to the Eastern Conference First Round. The loser will have a 12.5 percent chance at the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft in the Second Phase of the NHL Draft Lottery, to be held Monday.

Evans scored three points (two goals, one assist) in 13 games this season.

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