For the past few weeks, the Florida Panthers have been on a complete tear. The team has been on fire with contributions coming from the whole lineup, which also includes from the 38-year-old net minder Roberto Luongo.
December 4th, 2017 was a scary moment for not only Florida Panthers fans, but also the entire hockey world. That was the day a shot was taken by New York Islanders’ defenseman Ryan Pulock, which resulted in one of the scariest injuries of Roberto Luongo’s career.
At 2:26 of the second period, Pulock took a slap shot at the right side of the blue line, that ended up hitting Roberto’s right pad, unexpectedly sending him to the ground, lying on his stomach. Trainers ran out immediately, to then carry out the 38-year-old NHL netminder.
Luongo’s injury was as serious as it looked. After not being able to put any weight on his leg and being carried out by trainers, it was deemed Luongo would sit for a few months, hinting at a possible February return. But with Luongo’s known mental toughness and strong work ethic, he put the perfect amount of work in to allow him to come back strong.
When February 17 came around, it was finally time for Roberto Luongo to return between the pipes. In his first game back from injury, #1 in white shut the door, getting his first win since November 27th against the New Jersey Devils, beating the Calgary Flames 6-3.
This win for Roberto was the first of many, leading to eight victories in his first ten games after returning to the crease. Not only has his return resulted in his own success, but success to the players around him. The Florida Panthers have been arguably playing their best hockey of the season, and have made it like Luongo never stopped.
It can be said that there are many reasons for the sudden comeback for the Cats, but Luongo’s return can definitely be one of them. Of course, there can be some arguments claiming the tragedy of the Stoneman Douglas shooting can be considered as that sudden spark, but it’s also possible knowing that all of the pieces of their roster is finally placed in the appropriate spot, creating some momentum.
Luongo has arguably been playing some of the best hockey of his career as a 38-year-old, posting a third career-best .926 save percentage, and an impressive 2.61 GAA. Just like two seasons ago, the last year the Panthers made the playoffs, Roberto is making those flashy, game-saving stops, stealing games away for the Panthers, at times that they haven’t played spectacularly in front of him. You can say he is back to form, defying father time.
As a team, since Roberto has returned, the Panthers have gone 9-2-1 in their last 12 games, with games coming from both Luongo and James Reimer. Aside from the goaltenders, the rest of the team has shown some light individually, like forwards Nick Bjugstad and Denis Malgin, especially defenseman Keith Yandle, who has put up points at an impressive rate over the last few weeks. The team’s recent success has put them right back into the playoff race, leaving them 5 points out with three games in hand of the last wild-card spot, currently held by the New Jersey Devils.
According to Panthers’ coach Bob Boughner, Luongo will start the majority of the last number of games in the regular season, solidifying him as the starter between the pipes for the Cats going forward. Based on his recent play, who knows where he can lead the Panthers with the regular season coming to a close. With an on fire Luongo in net, a minimal amount of injuries, a firepower offense, and a solid defense to protect, this should be an exciting, playoff-implicating last stretch of this year.
Besides from the team’s excellent play as of late, Roberto Luongo’s ability to keeping the puck out of the net and the momentum he brings on a nightly basis has brought the Cats right back into the playoff race. The magnificent hockey he is playing is exactly what the Panthers need in order to push further for a playoff spot.