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.”