The thought of a full season with forward Jaromir Jagr in the lineup has Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo optimistic about making the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015-16.
The Panthers finished strong last season, and one reason was the play of Jagr, the leading scorer among active NHL players (722 goals, 1,802 points), who had six goals and 18 points in 20 games after being acquired in a trade from the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 27. Jagr, 43, formed an effective line with two young players, Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov, helping Florida go 12-6-2 after the trade.
The Panthers re-signed Jagr on April 12, and Luongo said having him back is vital to the Panthers' hopes of making the playoffs for the first time since 2012.
"He played unreal," Luongo told the Panthers website. "The whole first line played really well together as a three-man unit. If we can get that kind of production every night for the upcoming season, I think we're in pretty good shape."
Luongo is entering his second full season with the Panthers after they reacquired him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks on March 4, 2014. Luongo played in Florida for five seasons from 2000-06.
A 91-point season left the Panthers seven points short of a postseason berth in 2014-15.
"Last year we weren't quite sure what we were going to get; we had a lot of new faces and a new coaching staff," he said. "This year it's time to take that next step. It's really all about the playoffs for our team; nothing beneath that will be acceptable. I think as a group we realize that and demand that of ourselves.
"I think we as players are excited. We really realized our potential last year over the course of the season. We know we have a good group and we can do some special things in the coming years. I think right now we want to be focused on this season and making sure taking the next step as a group and getting into the playoffs, and then you never know."
Luongo said he's excited at the prospect of 3-on-3 overtime, which was implemented by the NHL for this season in an effort to reduce the number of shootouts. The Panthers have one of the worst records in the 10-year history of the shootout (49-72).
"It's going to be better than a shootout," he said. "There's going to be a lot of scoring chances, and I think that's what you want in hockey. There's going to be 2-on-1s and breakaways; if you miss a 2-on-1 on one side, it's going to be a 2-on-1 the other way coming back. A lot of games will end in the 3-on-3, and at times it will be frustrating for goaltenders. But it will be exciting, and that's what the fans need."