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Fridays with Louie

Louie1Big game on the schedule tomorrow, the Fighting Luongos traveling all the way from someplace called 'British Columbia' to play the slinking Panthers.

The Canucks have been struggling of late, losing seven of nine.

The good news for them, of course, is they've been granted a Florida Furlough AKA the Florida Four-point Swing. The good old days of teams getting a few days off to relax in the Sunshine State are back.

Tampa Bay and the Panthers have simply become speed bumps. Only a few teams -- Ottawa of note -- have slipped up of late. Neither team, it seems, can win at home anymore.

Coming into tonight's game, Tampa Bay has lost seven of their past eight at home. The Panthers? Everyone knows that story. Twelve of the past 15 games on home ice have gone the way of the visitor. Must be tough being a salesperson trying to make a living on this product.

-- Olli missed practice today, still fighting the stomach bug. Sure he'll be back out there tomorrow. Olli's consecutive game streak stands tall at 346 straight games. Not too shabby, eh? Last game Olli missed? Dec. 23, 2002 against Nashville. Also because of flu-like symptoms.

-- Here's some stuff gleaned from recent conversations:

Luongo:  “My feelings are not the same as they were the last time,’’ he said. “I had some pent-up anger. That’s over and done with. I’ve moved on and am excited to play. I hope to get a good reception.’’

“It’s been tough in regards to not being with my wife,’’ Luongo said. “With the exception of a couple of weeks in November, and I came down for two days at Christmastime. Aside from that, we’ve been apart. It’s nice to spend time with her and her family, especially quality time before the baby’s born.’’

“He did a lot for this team and this organization on and off the ice. No one worked harder,’’ friend and former teammate Stephen Weiss said. “He gave more of himself and expect nothing but full applause [from Florida fans]. But once the game starts, he’s on the other team.’’

Then this: “I think it’s going to be real emotional for him,’’ said Olli Jokinen, who came to Florida along with Luongo in a trade from the Islanders in 2000. “He’s going to have a lot of friends out there.’’

(*) The Panthers are selling this game hard, even giving out as many as 25 flat-screen TVs. Here’s the deal: they have a couple sponsors (Sharp, a local electronics retailer) and are giving out five sets before the game.

If Florida’s offense plays the way it has, that’ll be it. For every goal (up to four) Florida scores, five more TVs go out to some lucky fans.

“We have to make sure it’s a lot of TVs,’’ Olli Jokinen said.

(*) Speaking of fun: Tomas Vokoun faced at least 40 shots for the third straight game Wednesday. He made 43 saves in a victory over Ottawa, and stopped 37 of 40 in a shootout loss to Edmonton. Wednesday, he stopped 40 of 41 in a loss to Buffalo.

In Sunday's All-Star Game, he faced 20 shots in the second period, giving up two goals. By my math, he would have faced 60 shots if he played the whole game. Luongo can relate.