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.
It’s the final weekend of WCHA action and the No. 9 Denver Pioneers need a strong finish to stay in the hunt with Minnesota and Minnesota-Duluth. Having to go on the road to Nebraska Omaha to take on the Mavericks (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) won’t make it easy.
The Pioneers are led by coach George Gwozdecky and head into this weekend’s series losers of two of their last three games. After losses to both Wisconsin and North Dakota, the Pioneers will look to the Shore brothers Drew (Florida Panthers) and Nick (Los Angeles Kings) as well as Jason Zucker (Minnesota Wild – pictured) to buoy their offense. Denver needs one win this weekend to lock up finishing third in the WCHA.
Scoring goals isn’t usually a problem for Denver, however. Stopping pucks is their bugaboo. Sophomore Sam Brittain (Florida) has been their main man in goal since returning from injury. When Brittain hasn’t been getting the start, freshman Juho Olkinuora has been the best of what Denver has in goal. If DU is going to make a run through the WCHA playoffs and to the NCAAs, it’ll need to be Brittain that leads the way.
Nebraska Omaha comes into tonight’s game in the middle of the pack in the conference and trying to avoid potentially falling to eighth in the WCHA. Finishing sixth or better earns them home ice in the first round of the conference playoffs next weekend and a better chance of winding up in the Final Five in St. Paul.
The Mavericks are led by legendary coach Dean Blais. You might recall Blais from his effort coaching the 2010 American World Junior Championship team to the gold medal over Canada. The Mavericks, meanwhile, have had their ups and downs this season and come into this weekend losers of three of their last four.
Sophomore Matt White (pictured) has been their superstar on offense this season with 17 goals and 39 points. Meanwhile junior Terry Broadhurst and freshman Jayson Megna are also 30-point scorers for the Mavericks. Freshman and Penguins draftee Josh Archibald has had a quietly good season with 10 goals. Bryce Aneloski (Ottawa Senators) leads the way on defense and provides some scoring touch as well with six goals and 20 points.
In goal, the Mavericks are splitting duties up between freshman Ryan Massa and senior John Faulkner. Massa has gotten three more starts and put up much better numbers than Faulkner. Expect Massa to get the call for UNO down the stretch, freshman or not.