Whenever the Canucks and Panthers get together, it's like one giant family reunion. In the late 1990's and early 2000's, those reunions featured names like Pavel Bure and Ed Jovanovski. In more recent years, the gatherings have included the likes of Shawn Matthias, Chris Higgins, David Booth and Jason Garrison. But none of those meetings will be anything quite like tonight's tilt when Roberto Luongo, the man who rewrote the record books in Vancouver and is arguably the best goaltender to ever wear a Canucks uniform, makes his return to the place he called home for eight seasons before his sudden and somewhat shocking departure 10 months ago. Although Luongo did face the Canucks a mere 12 days after being dealt away – Vancouver defeated Florida 4-3 in a shootout down in Sunrise – this will be his first time playing in front of the fans at Rogers Arena since January 29, 2014, a 5-2 loss to Chicago in what turned out to be his final home start as a Canuck.
Even without the hoopla surrounding Luongo's return, tonight's game is an important one for both clubs despite being non-traditional rivals. The Canucks are in a dogfight in their own division and are looking to use their games in hand to try and create some distance between themselves and the likes of the Sharks, Kings and Flames. The Panthers, who are playing the third game of their season-high six-game road trip and are coming off a 4-3 loss to the Capitals on Sunday, are just looking to make sure they stay within striking distance of an Eastern Conference playoff berth as they currently sit just outside the cutoff line. The Canucks not only have to deal with Luongo and the Panthers tonight but some injury concerns as well. Radim Vrbata sat out Tuesday's 3-2 win over the Islanders with the flu while Brad Richardson left that game in the second period with a lower-body injury. Both players missed practice yesterday although Coach Willie Desjardins did say he expects both to be able to play tonight. Ryan Miller will get the start for the Canucks in net after getting the night off on Tuesday.
Puck drop at 7 pm PT – Live on Sportsnet Pacific, TSN 1040, or online at tsn1040.ca.
Regular Season Record
2014.15 Season Series
Keys to the Game
Turn a slump to a streak. One of the best parts of Tuesday's win was seeing the struggling Nick Bonino snap a lengthy goal drought with his first in eight games (just his second goal in 24 games). Now would be a great time for him to start trending in the right direction again and perhaps build some chemistry with expected new linemate Radim Vrbata, the latter who is hopeful to return to the lineup tonight.
Downplay the hype. It may be all Luongo, all the time, as far as the storylines for this game are concerned but the best thing the Canucks can do is to ignore the buzz once puck drops and just go about their business like it's just another game even if that means getting in the grill of their former teammate to make his life a little more difficult.
Louie has his night. No one wants to win tonight more than the returning Roberto Luongo. The Panthers still need to give him some goal support (they're near the bottom of the league averaging 2.22 goals-per-game), but they know they can expect a stellar performance from their netminder tonight.
By the Numbers
Career wins for Roberto Luongo against the Canucks, the only NHL team he has never beaten.
Win needed by Roberto Luongo to tie Dominik Hasek (389) for 11th place on the NHL all-time list.
All-time wins in Vancouver by the Panthers (2-5-6). Their second came just last season in a shootout.
Ex-Panthers on the Canucks active roster: Chris Higgins, Shawn Matthias.
Ex-Canucks on the Panthers active roster: Roberto Luongo, Willie Mitchell, Shane O'Brien.
All-time wins by Roberto Luongo with the Canucks, first in franchise history.