The Florida Panthers face their first must-win game of the post-season Sunday evening, and if the Cats are going to extend their season they’ll need to do it without one of their young impact players.
Panthers center Nick Bjugstad has been ruled out of Game 6 after suffering a scary injury during the second overtime period of Game 5. When chasing a puck in the New York Islanders’ zone during Friday’s game, Bjugstad toe-picked as he approached the boards and slammed headfirst into the half wall. Immediately, Bjugstad was clutching his head and he needed to be helped off the ice by teammates and the Panthers’ training staff:
Bjugstad did not return for the remainder of Game 5, which ended late in the second overtime, and it was reported post-game that he didn't travel to New York. There was a chance he could head to Brooklyn late to make it into the lineup for Game 6, but that won’t be the case as he’s officially been ruled out. The hope is Bjugstad isn’t suffering the ill effects of a concussion, especially considering the 23-year-old has a history of head injures.
In October 2013, Bjugstad suffered a concussion that forced him to miss five games, and he missed 15 games earlier in the current campaign with migraines. However, Bjugstad and the Panthers both said the headaches weren’t the result of another concussion.
“The unknown of the injury was it wasn't one specific hit, it wasn't one thing I can point out,” Bjugstad told the Miami Herald’s George Richards of the migraines in December. “That makes it bizarre and frustrating. Usually with an injury you have a timetable and can look at the hit or whatever it was. We have no idea where they came from.”
Bjugstad, 23, scored 15 goals and 34 points during the regular season and had performed well through five games in the first-round series, chipping in two goals and four points. Bjugstad has also seen his ice time increase in the post-season, and his presence in the lineup gave the Panthers one more weapon that could make a difference.