Roberto Luongo

Luongo to miss third straight as Panthers cling to playoff hopes

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Florida starter Roberto Luongo will sit again on Thursday when the Panthers take on the Jets in Sunrise, head coach Gerard Gallant confirmed today.

Luongo (23-16-11, 2.37 GAA, .921 save percentage), who suffered a shoulder injury during a wild game against Toronto last week — the same game in which second-stringer Al Montoya hurt his groin — will watch as journeyman Dan Ellis makes his third consecutive start for the Panthers, with ECHL recall Sam Brittain backing up.

It’s a tough blow for the Panthers.

Following a 4-3 shootout win over the Isles on Saturday, the Panthers were just two points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. But since then, Florida hasn’t played — Boston has, however, scoring big wins against Detroit and Ottawa to boost its lead to six points (the Bruins and Panthers are also now even in games played, with 66 each.)

If there is a silver lining for the Panthers, it’s that they still have three more cracks at the Bruins this season, the first of which comes in two weeks time at the BB&T Center (on Saturday, Mar. 21).

From there, the two will face each other two more times: in Boston on Mar. 31, and then back in Florida on Apr. 9.

Luongo (shoulder) skates, aims for Thursday return versus Jets

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Roberto Luongo returned to the ice on Monday for the first time since injuring his shoulder, and sounded hopeful he’d be back in goal when the Panthers host the Jets three days from now.

“I would love to [play Thursday] but right now it’s too early to tell,” Luongo said, per NHL.com. “There’s been some improvement over the past 24 hours but the next two days will be key to see if I’m able to play on Thursday.

“It’s not comfortable but it has gotten better over the past 24 hours so that’s encouraging.”

Luongo was hurt during a crazy game against Toronto last week, during which backup netminder Al Montoya was also lost to a groin injury (that will sideline him for the next few weeks). The situation forced Luongo to return to the game while still smarting from a Leo Komarov shot — “it caught me in a spot at a weird angle,” he explained — and, since then, goaltending duties have been turned over to veteran Dan Ellis, who’s up from AHL San Antonio.

Ellis, 34, has fared reasonably well in his two-game stint, helping Florida gain three of a possible four points. But it’s clear the club needs Luongo (23-16-11, 2.37 GAA, .921 save percentage) back in goal, especially with the playoff chase alive and well — Florida sits just four points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

“It’s no more than day-to-day,” Panthers head coach Gerard Gallant said of Luongo’s injury. “[Thursday] is the goal and the hope but we’ll see how he gets along.”

Panthers squeak by Islanders in SO to stay on Bruins’ heels

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The Boston Bruins pulled off a dramatic comeback against the Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon, putting the pressure on the Florida Panthers to beat the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders just to keep pace. The Panthers didn’t make it look easy, but they got two points in a 4-3 shootout victory.

Without defenseman Aaron Ekblad and forward Tomas Kopecky (both flu), the Panthers leaned heavily on 35-year-old Brian Campbell and 43-year-old Jaromir Jagr, giving them 26:18 and 21:12 minutes of ice time respective. However, it was ultimately Jonathan Huberdeau, 21, that proved to be the hero tonight.

He netted a key goal for the Panthers in the third period and accounted for the only marker in the shootout.

The Panthers also had Dan Ellis playing between the pipes as goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya are both sidelined. Ellis kicked out 25 of 28 shots before out dueling Frans Nielsen, John Tavares, and Josh Bailey in the skills competition.

Florida improved to 29-23-14 to remain two points shy of the Bruins in the battle for the second Wild Card spot. It’s worth noting though that Boston has a huge lead in ROW (30 to 22), so any tie is projected to go to the Bruins.

Panthers clear captain Mitchell, put Montoya on IR

The Florida Panthers could get a key piece back for their playoff push tonight versus Dallas, as captain Willie Mitchell has been cleared to play for the first time in over a month.

In goal — which is the team’s biggest area of concern right now — backup Al Montoya (groin) has been placed on injured reserve, while No. 1 Roberto Luongo hopes to return from his upper-body ailment next week (but will miss the club’s next two games at a minimum.)

Mitchell, 37, would go a long way in making life easier for tonight’s starting goalie, Dan Ellis. The veteran rearguard has been a stabilizing force this season — averaging over 22 minutes a night — while helping tutor Calder candidate Aaron Ekblad.

The Panthers head into tonight’s action two points back of Boston for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Boston hosts Calgary this evening.

NHL GMs to address emergency goalie rule following Florida incident

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Turns out the NHL already has discussed the hypothetical goalie nightmare Florida suffered against Toronto and, in wake of what transpired last night, plans to address it more thoroughly at the next round of GMs meetings.

From Sportsnet:

[NHL deputy commissioner Bill] Daly said there’s “no doubt” the topic will be revisited when the GMs gather again in Boca Raton, Fla., later this month.

“(In November) we floated a number of ideas on how to kind of deal with that issue because we knew what happened last night was going to ultimately happen,” said Daly. “And it’s likely to happen again. It’s definitely an issue that needs a collective focus from our managers and the league in terms of how to deal with it.

“It’s an interesting situation and it’s one that has gotten some discussion at the GM level as being a concern. We’ve had more and more situations where a single goalie goes down and then everybody asks: ‘What’s the next step? What if we lose our second goalie and who’s going to play and what kind of issues are related to that?”

Tuesday’s incident began when Roberto Luongo got hurt, turning the net over to backup Al Montoya. Later — with Luongo having already changed into street clothes and reportedly left the building — Montoya got injured his groin, which led to a wild scene in which Panthers forward Derek McKenzie was briefly summoned to go change into goalie gear, only for officials to rule he wasn’t eligible to play in net.

Florida then signed (and dressed) 41-year-old goalie coach Rob Tallas as an emergency backup, followed by Luongo returning to the arena, re-dressing and finishing the contest.