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Canucks' Luongo faces former mates in Florida

by Eric Goodman

CANUCKS (35-21-2) at PANTHERS (24-26-9)

Last 10
-- Vancouver 7-3-0; Florida 3-6-1

Season series -- This is the first and only meeting between the clubs this season. The Canucks took a 5-3 victory in the only game played against the Panthers last season back on Dec. 14, 2008, at GM Place.

Big story -- Former Panthers goalie and current Canucks captain Roberto Luongo makes only his second appearance at the BankAtlantic Center since he became a member of Vancouver in 2006. Luongo's 108 wins with Florida are the most by any Panthers goaltender and, at this point, can only be broken by current net minder and Thursday's likely opponent, Tomas Vokoun, who has 75 wins in 177 games played with the Panthers.

Team Scope:

Canucks -- Vancouver is still on top of the Northwest Division, but has dropped three of its last four games after winning seven in a row to close out the month of January. A 3-1 loss at Tampa Bay on Tuesday dropped the Canucks to 2-3-0 in the first five games of their NHL record 14-game road trip. Bolts' goalie Antero Niittymaki made 39 saves to earn the victory for Tampa and left many of the Canucks players frustrated with the lack of offense.

"It took us close to 40 minutes to solve (Niittymaki) and he shut the door in the third," Ryan Kesler, the Canucks only goal scorer said after the game. "We had some real good chances. We just couldn't find a way to beat him."

Panthers -- The Panthers have their work cut out for them if they hope to make the playoffs, as they have no less than four clubs to jump over in order to slip into the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference. Florida needs to start by snapping its current four-game losing streak, in which it has been outscored by a combined margin of 13-4.

"We're in a tough stretch," coach Peter DeBoer said after Tuesday's 4-1 loss to the last-place Carolina Hurricanes. "You have to keep working until you get it. We're in a low part and we have to fight our way out of it."

Who's hot -- Mason Raymond has recorded three points in his last five games for Vancouver. Stephen Weiss also has three points in his last five games and is the Panthers leading scorer with 47 points this season.

Injury report -- The Canucks are without defensemen Willie Mitchell (concussion) and Kevin Bieksa (severed ankle tendons) and center Alexandre Bolduc (shoulder).The Panthers will be missing forward Nathan Horton, who won't return until after the Olympics due to a broken left tibia.

Stat pack -- Vancouver is second in the Western Conference with an average of 3.14 goals scored per game. ... Vokoun is tied with the Devils' Martin Brodeur for the League lead in shutouts with seven.

Puck drop -- Despite the point differential between the Canucks (72) and the Panthers (57); this matchup remains intriguing because of the potential showdown between superstar goalies Luongo and Vokoun. Luongo couldn't lead his former Panthers team to the playoffs during his career there - largely for the same reason they may not make it this season despite Vokoun's superb play: lack of scoring.

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