It’s hard to imagine an NHL goaltender happier than Roberto Luongo right now. He longed to return to the Florida Panthers after a nearly eight year hiatus, and that return became a realty at the trade deadline earlier this week when the Vancouver Canucks agreed to deal Luongo back to his former team.
Luongo’s second stint in Sunrise commenced in storybook fashion on Friday night, as the now 34 year old netminder, who remained a fan favorite in South Florida after he bid adieu for Vancouver in 2006, returned to the BB&T Center in fine form and earned a shutout, making 25 saves as the Panthers blanked the Buffalo Sabres 2-0. Although it was Luongo’s fourth shutout this season, it was the first for the Panthers as a team in nearly two years. He has now registered 66 career shutouts, 27 of them with the Panthers.
Luongo’s new teammates reciprocated at the other end of the ice, as Jesse Winchester and Dmitry Kulikov each scored a power play goal, the first time since December (and only the third time all season) that the Panthers picked up multiple power play goals in one game. The Sabres’ seemingly never ending parade to the penalty box (27 total PIM for the game) no doubt aided their opponent’s efforts.
Luongo left behind a troubled Canucks franchise currently plagued beyond words with low morale, internal discord, and a plethora of other problems on and off the ice. The last straw for Luongo reportedly came when head coach John Tortorella opted to bench Luongo for last Sunday’s Heritage Classic game against the Ottawa Senators and put backup Eddie Lack in net instead. Luongo decided he’d had enough of the current saga in Vancouver and asked to be traded back to the same team from which he was originally acquired. Ironically, the Canucks pay a visit to South Florida next weekend for a tilt with the Panthers on Sunday afternoon.