SUNRISE — The Florida Panthers had a familiar face in net as they took the ice for practice on Wednesday morning: Roberto Luongo.
They were not expecting to see him out there, either.
Luongo has only put on the goalie pads a couple of times since retiring in 2019 and this was the first time he took shots from the Panthers.
They were in awe.
The 43-year-old got a taste of action during the NHL All-Star Skills competition, serving as a celebrity goaltender during the breakaway challenge and seemingly wanted some redemption after allowing a goal to Alex Ovechkin’s 4-year-old son in what was the highlight of the event.
“I knew the dad is a shooter so when he had it on the stick, I was ready for a shot but he went for a deke,” Luongo said after the event.
“It kind of caught me off guard there.”
Luongo came in on Wednesday and put up a valiant effort while Sergei Bobrovsky was taking a day off, stopping most of the shots that came his way.
“You got a chance,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice joked when asked if he could start Florida’s game against the Nashville Predators on Thursday.
“You forget how dominant he was in the net just on his size alone. He gets into the net and you start to have flashbacks to games that he’s played.”
Of course, a lot of them were “muffins,” as Maurice called them, but eventually, the Panthers put some more mustard behind them and Luongo cleaned them up nicely.
“He hasn’t changed one bit,” Matthew Tkachuk said.
“You still shoot it at him, and it just sticks to him. There’s no rebounds. He’s a Hall of Fame goalie. I had the privilege to play a lot against him in my career. I think I got one on him in Calgary. That’s a very fond memory that I have. I got one there, but I wasn’t close to scoring on him today. He looked good out there.”
Tkachuk did not get one past Luongo but Radko Gudas did score his first-ever goal against the legendary netminder after going scoreless against him while he was still manning creases in Sunrise and Vancouver.
“I finally scored on him,” Gudas said.
“It was great to see him and great to get him in a practice like that. All the guys enjoyed it. A different body in the net is always fun to shoot at. He held his own.”
Maurice said that Gudas felt a bit bad for scoring on him but savored the moment quickly after.
“We got it on video and we’re sending it to him,” he joked. “We are making it one of those non-fungible tokens.”
Luongo’s addition to Wednesday’s practice was a welcome one for a Panthers group that is neck-deep in a tight Eastern Conference playoff race.
Florida (64 points) currently sits three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for the final wild card spot in the East and have more games played than every other team in the race save for the Islanders (69 points) and the Capitals (64 points).
With the 20 games left on their schedule all becoming high-pressure, must-win matchups, the Panthers needed to take a step back and have some fun while loosening up for the next one.
“The presence of Roberto Luongo in the net is always good,” Maurice said. “He had some fun.
“It was a good way to give Bob a little bit of rest, and it was fun to watch.”
PANTHERS ON DECK
NASHVILLE PREDATORS AT FLORIDA PANTHERS
- When: Thursday, 7 p.m.
- Where: FLA Live Arena, Sunrise
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Sun, ESPN+
- Radio: WPOW 96.5 FM-2; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932
- Season Series (Predators lead 1-0): Nashville 7, Florida 3 (Feb. 16)
- Last season: Florida won 2-0
- All-time regular season series: Florida leads 21-13-6, 3 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Pittsburgh at Florida, Saturday, 6 p.m.