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Luongo ready for return engagement with Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Roberto Luongo talked at length about his return to the Florida Panthers the past two days, but Friday was time to get ready for his first game with his old/new team.

Luongo didn't address the media after the morning skate Friday, but his coach and teammates had plenty to say about Luongo's first game back in a Panthers uniform.

"It's a big game for our fans to see Roberto back in net and for us here to play a big game in front of him," forward Scottie Upshall said. "It's a big match."

The first game of Luongo's second stint with the Panthers will come Friday against the Buffalo Sabres at BB&T Center. It comes a little less than eight years after Luongo was traded from the Panthers to the Vancouver Canucks after five seasons in Florida.

Luongo arrived for his first practice Thursday wearing an old Panthers-decorated mask he pulled out of his closet, and he's expected to wear the mask against Buffalo.

"It's going to be fun," Luongo said after practice Thursday. "It's been a long time since I've played as a Panther here. I'm excited to play in front of the crowd and hopefully there'll be a lot of them and we get a win."

The game against Buffalo also will mark the NHL debut of one of Florida's best prospects, center Vincent Trocheck.

Trocheck, named the most outstanding player in the Ontario Hockey League last season after leading the league with 109 points, was recalled from the San Antonio Rampage of the American Hockey League on Wednesday. Trocheck led San Antonio with 41 points in 54 games this season.

"I want to see him play his game," Horachek said. "He's going to jump right into the fire. He's going to play a high role right off the bat. I think he thrives in those situations. He wants to be that guy in that situation. All year long he's been chomping at the bit to get an opportunity to come up here. When I was in San Antonio, he was the best forward down there, especially earlier on. He's a type of kid that wants to be around the pressure."

Trocheck, a 20-year-old center and native of Pittsburgh, will play on the Panthers' second line, alongside veterans Tomas Fleischmann and Upshall.

"Nervous a little bit, obviously," Trocheck said. "First game in the NHL, you're going to be a little bit nervous. But extremely excited. It's a dream come true. Can't wait to get on the ice.

"I'm going to go out there and play simple, play smart, play my way and hopefully that results in producing points."

After playing Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Sabres did not hold a morning skate Friday.

The Sabres beat the Lightning 3-1 to improve to 4-1-0 since the Olympic break, but lost two forwards to injuries in the process. Zemgus Girgensons and Chris Stewart, the latter just acquired in the trade that sent goalie Ryan Miller to the St. Louis Blues, each left the game with lower-body injuries and did not return. Coach Ted Nolan said after the game they were "very doubtful" for Friday.

On Friday morning the Sabres recalled forwards Luke Adam and Nicolas Deslauriers from the Rochester Americans of the AHL on an emergency basis.

Buffalo also should have forward Cory Conacher available. Claimed off waivers from the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday, Conacher was expected to join his new teammates after taking a flight Friday morning.

Another newcomer, goalie Michal Neuvirth, also could make his Sabres debut Friday. Before Jhonas Enroth stopped 43 shots against the Lightning on Thursday, Nolan said he was leaning toward going with Neuvirth against Florida. Neuvirth was acquired Wednesday in the trade that sent goalie Jaroslav Halak to the Washington Capitals.

Here are the projected lineups for the Sabres and Panthers:


Ville Leino - Tyler Ennis - Drew Stafford

Marcus Foligno - Cody Hodgson - Cory Conacher

Brian Flynn - Zenon Konopka - Matt D'Agostini

John Scott - Torrey Mitchell - Matt Ellis

Alexander Sulzer - Christian Ehrhoff

Mike Weber - Tyler Myers

Henrik Tallinder - Jamie McBain

Michal Neuvirth

Jhonas Enroth

Scratched: Luke Adam, Nicolas Deslauriers

Injured: Zemgus Girgensons (lower body), Chris Stewart (lower body)


Sean Bergenheim - Nick Bjugstad - Brad Boyes

Tomas Fleischmann - Vincent Trocheck - Scottie Upshall

Jonathan Huberdeau - Brandon Pirri - Jesse Winchester

Krys Barch - Scott Gomez - Jimmy Hayes

Brian Campbell - Tom Gilbert

Ed Jovanovski - Dmitry Kulikov

Dylan Olsen - Erik Gudbranson

Roberto Luongo

Dan Ellis

Injured: Aleksander Barkov (lower body), Tomas Kopecky (upper body)

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