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Bertuzzi looking for Feb. return

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As they practiced for the first time after the NHL All-Star Game, the Panthers received mixed news on the injury front.

Right wing Todd Bertuzzi, who has missed 43 games because of a back injury that required surgery, again worked out on his own and is getting healthier by the day.

''I skated and worked out over the [All-Star] break,'' Bertuzzi said after an individual workout at Incredible Ice on Thursday. ``I pushed it as hard as I can and came back and did another hard one [Thursday]. I actually feel pretty good. It's a matter of being stable enough in order to go through a practice without have any hesitations.''

Before this season, Bertuzzi had missed just 13 games in three seasons -- all because of suspensions.

''The hardest part is not playing,'' said Bertuzzi, who added he has been skating anywhere from 45 minutes to one hour during his daily rehabilitation. ``I've never really missed a season. . . . I know I'd be able to go out there and contribute and help this team out. We've had about 12 to 15 games that have been one-goal games. I know that I would have been able to make a difference in those games. I think that's the frustrating part.''

Bertuzzi said he expects to return ``sometime in February.''

Defenseman Branislav Mezei's return is uncertain.

Mezei, on injured reserve because of a separated shoulder, will need surgery and could be lost for the season.

''[Mezei] is going to need shoulder surgery,'' Panthers coach Jacques Martin said. ``Whether he has it now or later, we're still debating. I think he still wants to get another opinion, so we should know by early next week whether he will be done for the year.

``If he has the surgery now, he's done for the year, because you're looking at four to six months rehab. Or he may feel the percentages are good enough that he could come back and play and delay the surgery.''

Mezei, who has been prone to injuries, played in 45 games this season, tying a career high. Mezei played 45 games with Florida during the 2003-04 season.

Martin said Gary Roberts, who is out because of a hip flexor injury, could be back by the middle of next week.
 

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