MIAMI (AP) – Roberto Luongo’s first game back with the Florida Panthers couldn’t have gone any smoother.
He could be in for a much stiffer test Sunday with the surging Boston Bruins coming to town.
The Panthers try to avoid an eighth consecutive loss to the Bruins as these Atlantic Division foes meet for the second time this week.
Luongo was at his best in Friday’s 2-0 win over NHL-worst Buffalo, turning away all 25 shots in his first action since coming over from Vancouver before the trade deadline. The veteran goalie previously spent five seasons with Florida (24-32-7) from 2000 through 2006.
“It was nice, a great reception from the start and I thought the boys played extremely well,” Luongo said after recording his fourth shutout of the season. “We’re a really fast team. I was impressed by the speed that we generated. The future is very promising.”
Jesse Winchester and Dmitry Kulikov provided all the offense, but it was Luongo who stole the show.
“I know first-hand from speaking to him in the summertime how bad he wanted to come back to Florida and for him to get that opportunity,” captain Ed Jovanovski told the NHL’s official website. “We as an organization are obviously excited to have him. For him, he’s excited. He’s rejuvenated. He wants to go out there and play well and give this team kind of that feel-good heading into next year.”
A repeat performance could be hard to come by for Luongo, who is 2-5-0 with a 3.95 goals-against average in his last seven games against the Bruins, including the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals.
Boston (41-17-5) beat Florida 4-1 on Tuesday behind a hat trick from David Krejci, who has seven goals and nine assists during a 14-game stretch in the series. The Bruins have taken 13 of 15 from the Panthers, including seven straight by a combined 28-8 score.
“They play hard and play well, and that’s the benchmark,” Panthers coach Peter Horachek said of the Bruins. “That’s the team you have to gauge yourself by. When you compete against that team on a night-to-night basis, then that’s when you’re competing for playoff spots.”
Boston, 11-2-2 since Jan. 20, is on the verge of a season-high fifth straight win after pulling out a 4-3 shootout victory at Tampa Bay on Saturday. Johnny Boychuk scored the tying goal 8:11 into the third period and Reilly Smith came through with the only goal in the seven-round shootout.
“It was good to be able to help the team get an extra point on that,” said Smith, mired in a season-worst 11-game goalless drought. “Personally, it may take a little bit off my shoulders, but hopefully I can get back to it next game.”
Tuukka Rask, who made 17 saves to earn his third straight victory, has posted a 0.99 GAA and three shutouts during a nine-start winning streak against the Panthers. His career GAA of 1.08 versus Florida is his lowest against any team he’s faced more than three times.
The Bruins are 6-0-3 during a nine-game stretch on the road, their longest such point streak since 2010-11. With 87 points, Boston is just one behind Pittsburgh for the Eastern Conference lead. (© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)