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Luongo to start for Panthers vs. Sabres

by Mike Battaglino

SABRES (19-35-8) at PANTHERS (23-32-7)


Last 10: Buffalo 5-5-0; Florida 2-8-0

Season series: The Florida Panthers have won the past two games, one in a shootout, against the Buffalo Sabres after losing the first. Panthers forward Sean Bergenheim has a goal and two assists, and defenseman Tom Gilbert has three assists in the three games.

Big story: Roberto Luongo will play his first game in goal for the Panthers since April 18, 2006. After seven-plus seasons with the Vancouver Canucks, Luongo was traded to the Panthers on Tuesday for forward Shawn Matthias and goalie Jacob Markstrom.

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

Team Scope:

Sabres: Buffalo defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-1 on Thursday for its fourth win in five games since the Olympic break. It was the Sabres' seventh road win in regulation; they're the only NHL team still in single digits (7-18-3).

"Going into the last stretch of games here, our playoffs basically start today," coach Ted Nolan told the Buffalo News. "A lot of guys' contracts are up, there are jobs to be won. There's no such thing as there's nothing to play for. There's a lot to play for. They're playing for livelihood, so we've got to unite, find some new leaders on this team."

Buffalo parted with goalie Ryan Miller and forwards Cody McCormick, Matt Moulson and Steve Ott, who was captain, heading into the NHL Trade Deadline.

"It's a whirlwind week for sure," defenseman Tyler Myers told MSG Network. "It hasn't really sunk in yet, especially with major changes being made yesterday as well. I think for our group it's important to keep moving in the direction that we are."

Forward Torrey Mitchell, who came from the Minnesota Wild, made his Sabres debut Thursday, playing on the fourth line and penalty kill.

"It's a quick turnaround, and you get to jump into a game right away," Mitchell told the newspaper. "Guys who get traded say that's the best thing."

Panthers: Luongo was 19-16-6 with a 2.38 goals-against average and .917 save percentage for the Canucks this season. He was 10-6-2 with a 2.39 GAA and .914 save percentage against the Eastern Conference.

"I still know a lot of the players [in the East], even though I don't play them as much," Luongo said. "I've been around. There's always adjustment periods, of course, but that's the good part of having these last 20 games; you get to get that out of the way right away. Once we start next year, we won't have to worry about that."

Luongo takes over as Florida's No. 1 from Tim Thomas, who was traded to the Dallas Stars for goalie Dan Ellis on Wednesday.

"When there's change ... it feels like a breath of fresh air," Luongo said. "I think the guys in this locker room are working hard and a lot of them are playing to be here next year. So when that's the case, usually guys lay it all on the line, and that's a good mentality to have."

Florida called up 20-year-old forward Vincent Trocheck, one of its top prospects will make his NHL debut. He had 16 goals and 25 assists in 54 games for San Antonio of the American Hockey League.

"In practice today, I really liked the way he was practicing," coach Peter Horachek said. "He moves the puck real well, he passes the puck very well, and he has a very accurate shot."

Who's hot: Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth has won three of four after having one win prior to that. Myers has six points in his past three games. Forward Cody Hodgson has four points in his past four games. … Bergenheim has four points in his past four games. Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell has three points in his past four.

Injury report: Sabres forwards Zemgus Girgensons (lower body) and Chris Stewart (lower body) left the game Thursday after being injured. Neither is expected to play. … Panthers forwards Tomas Kopecky (concussion) and Aleksander Barkov (knee) are on injured reserve.

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