Mikael Samuelsson's second tour with the Florida Panthers started out like his first one.
In 2003-04, Samuelsson struggled with injuries, playing just 37 games with the Panthers as he missed two big stretches.
Brought back in the David Booth deal on Oct. 22, Samuelsson came in hurt. A sports hernia surgery performed last May left complications. Samuelsson missed 20 games and didn't make his second Panthers debut until Dec. 8.
Samuelsson, who later missed five games with a concussion, has seemingly turned the corner and found his stride in a Florida sweater.
“It feels good to play, first of all, because it makes you realize how much you miss it,'' Samuelsson said on Thursday, a day after his two goals from long range helped the Panthers beat Washington 4-2. “I knew when I was traded, I wasn't day-to-day. I was prepared for a long rehab. Hopefully that's all behind me.''
Samuelsson was patient during rehabilitation upon coming back to the Panthers as was coach Kevin Dineen. Although it looked like a never-ending process, Dineen knew what kind of player Samuelsson is when healthy and was willing to wait for that.
In the 10 games since returning from his concussion, Samuelsson has four goals with three assists.
“I like what he brings to our team,'' Dineen said. “He has a large level of creativity and skill that was on display [Wednesday].
"Dale Tallon is smart like a fox and understands to get quality you have to give some up. That was where his thought process was on this deal. We gave up someone [Booth] who had had been here a long time and had kind of the stamp of the franchise on him. He also knows he got players who have been down this line before. We can talk more of it on Game 82.''
The Panthers are definitely counting on the leadership Samuelsson and others who have won the hardware bring down the stretch. Florida hasn't made the playoffs in an NHL record 10 straight seasons, a drought the Panthers could end this season.
“Having Samuelsson is unreal, he's played on some of the best teams the NHL has seen over the past few years,'' said 23-year-old defenseman Keaton Ellerby.
“He's seen it all, has the experience and the knowledge. He keeps things calm, keeps an even keel. You have to stick to the game plan and do what worked in the past.''
Florida has a handful of players – including Samuelsson, Tomas Kopecky, Kris Versteeg, John Madden and Brian Campbell – who know what it's like to go on a run to the playoffs.
“I think we bring a calmness to the room,'' Samuelsson said. “We know what it takes to win games. You can't panic, you just need to relax and play their game. The younger players have to hear that, have to believe it. That's what a team is all about.''
() Kris Versteeg returned to practice on Thursday after missing the past three days with the flu. Versteeg, who had his own water bottle on the bench, is questionable for Friday's game against the Jets.
He said he still felt “crummy” as he left the locker room on Thursday. Versteeg has five goals in the past two games against Winnipeg.
“I'm wondering where his energy will be later on [Thursday] and when we go out for the morning skate,'' Dineen said. “He's had the flu for the past three or four days. We've all been there. You just feel rotten and wore down. That's where he's at.''
() Marco Sturm missed 14 games with a concussion before returning Wednesday night. Sturm took Thursday off but should be back Friday. “It's not always easy,'' Dineen said. “He worked hard to get back in the swing of things.''
() Goalie Jacob Markstrom had knee surgery on Jan. 10 and returned to the ice for the first time on Thursday. Markstrom is still expected to be out the next two weeks and, if Florida's top two goalies are healthy, will be returned to AHL San Antonio. “That first day on the ice is always a good first step,'' Dineen said.
() Jose Theodore (knee) didn't skate on Thursday but Dineen would not rule him out for Saturday's game in Tampa Bay. Scott Clemmensen will start Friday against the Jets.
FRIDAY: JETS AT PANTHERS
TV/Radio: FSN; WQAM-560
The series: Panthers lead 2-0-1
The game: Scott Clemmensen stopped 41 shots – including five of seven in the shootout – as Florida won at Winnipeg 4-3 on Jan. 23. The Panthers are 8-1-2 against Canadian opponents this season and 4-0-1 at home (Winnipeg won here in a shootout on Oct. 31). Winnipeg went into Thursday's game at Tampa Bay five points back of the Panthers in the standings.