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VANCOUVER (CBSMiami/AP) – As the Florida Panthers begin the western Canada portion of their season-long six game road trip, one of their key players could get a warm welcome from the Vancouver faithful.
Roberto Luongo doesn’t know how he’ll be received by Canucks fans when he takes the ice in Vancouver for the first time since being traded to Florida in March.
Regardless of the reception, the Panthers goaltender is looking forward to facing his former team in a familiar surrounding Thursday night.
The 35-year-old Luongo won 284 of the 512 regular-season and playoff games he played for Vancouver from 2006 until he was dealt to Florida on March 4. He helped the Canucks win six division titles, claim the Presidents’ Trophy twice and reach the Stanley Cup finals in 2011.
Though Luongo made 29 saves during a 4-3 home shootout loss to Vancouver on March 16, he’s naturally wondered what it would be like to face the Canucks at Rogers Arena.
“It’s crossed my mind once or twice,” said Luongo, whose last start at Vancouver came Jan. 29. “I’m not quite sure what type of reception I’m going to get, but I’ll definitely enjoy the game, that’s for sure.
“Lous and boos, they all sound the same.”
Though Luongo’s 388 regular-season wins are 12th on the NHL’s all-time list, some Vancouver fans could be inclined to offer a negative response considering he went 32-31 in the postseason for the Canucks. He posted a 3.69 goals-against average while losing his final six playoff starts and was peppered during an 8-1 loss to Boston in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals.
Despite a drawn-out process that eventually led to his departure from Vancouver, Luongo harbors no hard feelings toward the Canucks’ organization, their players or fans.
“I’ve moved on,” Luongo said. “I enjoyed my time here. I was disappointed I wasn’t able to bring a Cup here.”
Though Luongo has enjoyed visiting with former teammates and friends this week, he’ll take a business-like approach in his return to the net after a head-on collision with Alex Ovechkin forced him to sit out the third period of Sunday’s 4-3 loss at Washington. Luongo, who allowed one goal on 64 shots in the previous two games before yielding three against the Capitals, leads a Florida team that’s just outside of playoff position in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s good to be back,” Luongo said. “I’m trying to be in the moment. We’re doing pretty well, we’re in the mix for a playoff spot. That’s exciting. That’s what my focus is on to be honest.
“That helps a little bit, having faced the guys already once, so have a good game and give my team a chance to win.”
The Panthers (17-11-9) snapped an 11-game winless stretch (0-5-1 with five ties) at Vancouver with a 3-2 shootout victory Nov. 19, 2013. Current Canuck Shawn Matthias, who was part of the Luongo deal, scored the tying goal for Florida.
Luongo will try to stymie the Canucks (23-12-3), who are in the midst of a 5-1-1 stretch and looking for a third straight victory after Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the New York Islanders. With goals leader Radim Vrbata out due to illness, Linden Vey snapped a 12-game goal drought and Nick Bonino scored his first in eight contests.
“I think every team that’s good in this league and wins has some secondary scoring,” said defenseman Ryan Stanton, who added his second career goal.
It’s uncertain if Vrbata, who has a goal in three straight games and 16 on the season, will be available for this matchup.
After watching backup Eddie Lack make 21 saves against the Islanders, Ryan Miller could return to the Canucks’ net. Miller has a 1.66 GAA during a 4-1-1 run, but has posted a 3.63 GAA during a 1-2-1 stretch against the Panthers.
Florida’s Nick Bjugstad has recorded three of his team-leading 15 goals in the last four games and five points in the last five contests.
(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2015 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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