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STORYBOOK RESTART: Luongo Shuts Out Sabres in Triumphant Return to Panthers ... Thomas Bobblehead Day is Back On

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Roberto Luongo left the Panthers as the franchise's all-time leader in shutouts back in 2006.

On Tuesday, he returned with his record still intact.

By Friday night, he was already adding to it.

Luongo had a triumphant return with the Panthers as he made 25 saves in Florida's 2-0 win over Buffalo at BB&T Center.

It was Luongo's 66th career shutout and 27th with the Panthers. He had three with Vancouver this season before coming back to Florida in a trade Tuesday afternoon.

"It was nice, a great reception from the start and I thought the boys played extremely well,'' said Luongo, in a Florida sweater for the first time since beating the Atlanta Thrashers 2-1 in overtime in the 2006 season finale.

"We're a really fast team. I was impressed by the speed that we generated. The future is very promising.''

Luongo didn't get a lot of goals from Florida's offense although the Panthers did take 44 shots at new Buffalo goalie Michal Neuvirth with coach Peter Horachek saying Florida had 30 scoring chances.

Sean Bergenheim had 12 shots.

Florida's power play -- ranked last in the NHL but not much worse than the one Luongo left behind in Vancouver -- scored twice for the first time since Dec. 3.

The power play got off to a rocky start after Buffalo took consecutive penalties to give the Panthers an extended run.

With Matt D'Agostini in the box, Marcus Foligno was kicked out of the game for running Brandon Pirri into the boards along the Buffalo bench.

Florida wasted most of the 6:35 power play but Jesse Winchester salvaged things. Winchester shoveled a shot past Neuvirth -- fresh out of Washington -- to make it 1-0 midway through the first.

"If that doesn't score, it probably gives them a little confidence and some momentum,'' Horachek said.

The Panthers continued to take aim at Neuvirth, still wearing his Capitals' themed equipment, yet couldn't find the back of the net as Luongo made one nice save after another.

Florida finally gave Luongo some breathing room early in the third when defenseman Dmitry Kulikov rifled a shot from 40 feet away to make it 2-0. Horachek said "Kulikov was outstanding, the best player on the ice".

With Luongo back, it seemed like a lot of Panthers were energized.

"Louie's first game back and this was fitting,'' said captain Ed Jovanovski, playing in his first game with Luongo as a teammate despite all their combined years together with the organization.

"I'm glad he's on our side. I've played with a few elite goaltenders before and he has a pretty good resume. Being able to play with him is nice.''

Luongo came onto the ice to raucous cheers as many in the crowd broke out their old No. 1 jerseys.

Once the captain in Vancouver who had been strung around the past few years with the Canucks, Luongo looked sharp, confident and especially comfortable back in the arena it all started for him in South Florida back in 2000.

"He's really happy to be here and I'm excited for him,'' GM Dale Tallon said. "He's had a tough couple of years and handled himself with class and dignity. He deserves good things to happen.''

Said Luongo: "Shutouts are always nice but in the end it's about the win. We were up one in the third but didn't sit back. It was good.''


The Panthers changed course and will give out Tim Thomas bobbleheads to the first 7,500 fans who attend Sunday's game against the Bruins as scheduled.

Thomas was traded to Dallas on Wednesday, one day after Florida got Luongo back. Thomas' bobblehead is the third to be given out during Florida's 20th anniversary season with three such days later this month.

-- Vincent Trocheck, 20, made his NHL debut Friday with a number of family members from Pittsburgh in attendance.

Trocheck took three shots on 25 shifts.

"I felt confident to use him in a lot of situations,'' Horachek said.



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Nicely done!

I see playoffs in the future for this team.

Trocheck made some nice "effort" plays, keeping pucks alive in the offensive zone, giving up the body. Not too sure what his faceoff % was, but that will come in time.

I thought Bjugstad looked good, and, I agree with Horacheck, Kulikov looked like the top pairing d-man his talent level screams he should be....be his consistency level sucks, to be honest.

Kulikiov is and always will be the Mario Chalmers of this team. You cheer for him one minute, then curse his stupid mistakes a few minutes later:)

Remember folks, Kulikov may be in his 5th season but he is only 23 years old. I'm glad Tallon didn't move him. Imagine what he can be, both offensively and defensively, if he more consistently makes the smart play. Still, he does so more often than not. He'll get it figured out. You can see intensity in his play following a mistake in a effort to make up for it. He's still got time to learn to simplify and make the safer, smarter play more consistently. My bigger issue with him is his ugly play early in seasons. He tends to play much better in the last 2/3 or so.

Nice night for Luongo. Wasn't challenged a whole lot but came up big when he was. Even had a little luck.

Panthers obviously got a real good goaltender, the only question is for how long. I do feel better about his contract with Vancouver picking up 15% and the cap hit if Luongo retires before contract is up. But, I believe that Tallon needs to upgrade Luongos backup. Neither Clemmensen nor Ellis are good enough.

Florida should be a playoff team next season, probably playing for the last 2 or 3 slots. But they need to shore up the goaltending in case of injury to Luongo and also to push him if he goes cold. I would hate to see Ellis or Clemmensen carrying the load for any extended period. I believe the Panthers will be fighting for one of the last spots next season and sub-par goaltending for any extended time would probably be the difference.

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