SUNRISE, Fla. - Roberto Luongo is back and better than ever.
After a recurring hip issue cut his 2016-17 campaign short, the 39-year-old netminder returned with a vengeance this season, posting an 18-11-2 record with three shutouts, a 2.47 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage - his best mark in that category since 2003-04.
"He feels good, Panthers coach Bob Boughner said after the team's locker cleanout in April. "You look at his age - he's 39 years old - and how he came back from injuries this year. You look at his save percentage and his numbers when he was at his best, he can still be one of the better goalies in the league."
Luongo continues to work hard to evolve in order to extend the life of his Hall of Fame-worthy career. This season, his warm-up routine, which used to last 20-30 minutes during his prime, ran anywhere from 45-60 minutes - a testament to his unmatched passion for the game.
"It's not something that's enjoyable to do every single day," Luongo said. "Sometimes, you just want to come to the rink and put your gear on and get dressed. Unfortunately, that's the way it is. I still have a strong passion for the game and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to be in this league."
In recognition of his dedication, Luongo was selected as the Panthers' nominee for this year's Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, which is awarded annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to hockey."
"I don't think I'd be dealing with all this stuff if I didn't have that passion to keep going," he said.
That passion was evident down the home stretch, when Florida's season hung in the balance.
Luongo appeared in four games during the final week of the regular season, going 3-0-0 with a 1.59 goals-against average and .955 save percentage to help the Panthers reach 96 points and become just the 13th team in NHL history to earn five wins in seven days.
Still, despite his resurgent season, the sting of missing the playoffs is sticking with Luongo.
"With the run we had and falling short, it's tough to reflect on [the season] and feel good about yourself," Luongo said. "I think it's going to take a couple weeks to get over the fact that we fell short. Right now, I'm just trying to deal with the disappointment of not making the playoffs."
With the playoffs driving him to return, Luongo plans to build on his storied career next season.
A first-round pick (fourth overall) of the New York Islanders in 1997, Luongo has posted a 471-376-33-86 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. His 471 wins are the fourth-most in NHL history, while his 76 shutouts are tied for ninth.
The 2018-19 season will be his 11th with the Panthers and 19th overall in the NHL. "I'm not going anywhere," Luongo said.
In backstopping the Panthers to a crucial 3-2 win over the Boston Bruins on April 5, Luongo became just the third goaltender in NHL history to play in 1,000 games, joining Hall of Famers Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy.
"The boys probably played their best game of the year," Luongo said. "I thought we were phenomenal at both ends of the ice. I think that was our best game by far. They didn't really have any chances at all. That's the best gift the boys could give me."
Luongo is Florida's all-time leader in games played (529), wins (212) and shutouts (37).
"It was nice to see him get his 1,000th game this year," Boughner said. "The way he got it, he went out in style. It meant a lot for the guys."
Video: Roberto Luongo 1000 Games Congratulations Messages
Luongo stopped all 40 shots he faced to lead the Panthers to an impressive 5-0 win over the Montreal Canadiens at BB&T Center on March 8. The shutout was his second of the season and 75th of his career.
"He's been amazing," Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle said. "He's been laser focused. I've said it before, he's the backbone of our team. I think when he's kicking the way he is, it's a fun thing to watch."
Luongo almost lost his shutout twice against the Habs, but an inconclusive goal call - the puck wasn't seen crossing the line - in the first period and a successful goalie interference challenge in the third helped his scoresheet remain clean.
"I don't know about the first [goal] in the first period and how close that one was or was not," Luongo said. "You get a couple breaks like that. It's nice to get them once a while."
The game was one of five 40-plus save performances Luongo posted this season.
Video: MTL@FLA: Luongo stops 40 shots for 75th shutout
SAVE OF THE YEAR
This looked like it was going to be an easy goal for Anton Slepyshev.
After being pulled out of the crease by a shot from Darnell Nurse, Luongo scrambled to get back into place in time to defend the open net behind him. With time running out, he turned and fell to his stomach, extending his paddle just enough to redirect Slepyshev's shot out of harm's way.
"It was definitely a save-of-the-year candidate," Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck said. "One of the best saves I've ever seen."
Video: EDM@FLA: Luongo lunges for incredible stick save