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.
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.
[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.
The Florida Panthers brought up some much-needed netminding enforcement on Wednesday, recalling veteran Dan Ellis from AHL San Antonio.
Ellis, 34, is headed to Florida one day after a wild loss to Toronto, during which both Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya exited due to injury, forcing 41-year-old goalie coach Rob Tallas to suit up in an emergency role and forcing Luongo to return to the game after he’d already changed into his street clothes.
There’s still no word on exactly how badly either of the Panthers’ two netminders are hurt. Luongo suffered an apparent shoulder injury and was set to undergo further evaluation; Montoya hurt his groin “pretty bad,” per head coach Gerard Gallant.
If both are sidelined for any length of time, it’ll be a huge blow for Florida’s playoff chances. The team missed a golden opportunity to draw even with Boston on 71 points last night — the Bruins currently hold the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference — and Florida has two more games coming up in quick succession: Thursday against the Stars, Saturday against the Islanders.
Update: The Panthers also recalled goalie Sam Brittain from the ECHL, which is an indication neither Luongo nor Montoya will be ready for Thursday’s game against Dallas.