Roberto Luongo had been tied with Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk on the NHL’s all-time win list for almost three weeks.
Monday night, Luongo finally got sole possession of fifth.
Luongo looked terrific as he backstopped the Florida Panthers to a 3-0 win over the host New Jersey Devils at Prudential Center.
“I wasn’t too worried about it, I just wanted to get some wins,” Luongo said. “Obviously our goal is to make the playoffs and that’s where my focus is — 100 percent. The rest will take care of itself.”
The victory was No. 448 for Luongo — who had not been in the personal win column since Dec. 20 against the visiting Sabres.
Next up for Luongo is Curtis Joseph (454 wins) and one-time Florida goalie Eddie Belfour (484). Belfour replaced Luongo in Florida’s net for what was his final NHL season after Luongo’s controversial (and lopsided) trade to Vancouver in 2006.
The shutout was Luongo’s first this season but 73rd of his career which ranks 11th. Luongo is three shutouts shy of tying Belfour and Tony Esposito for ninth.
Luongo made 28 saves in the victory.
“He was terrific and I’m real happy for him; it shows the longevity of what he has done,” coach Tom Rowe said. “He’s incredibly professional ... it’s an incredible milestone for him.”
Florida went 3-0 against the sagging Devils this season and Monday’s victory puts the Panthers two points back of a playoff spot in a muddled Atlantic Division.
Luongo had to be sharp Monday as Florida’s list of walking wounded grew Monday after Denis Malgin was forced out after being decked by Pavel Zacha in the first period.
The Panthers had Malgin centering their fourth line before he was hit from behind by Zacha in the first and cashed in on the subsequent power play for a 1-0 lead.
Zacha was called for five minutes worth of roughing. After Shawn Thornton served his two minutes for going after Zacha in his defense of Malgin, Florida had a three-minute power play and got a Reilly Smith goal as he polished off his own rebound off the left pad of Cory Schneider with 3:05 left in the opening frame.
Florida’s power play had been 0-12 before Smith scored.
“Every win we pick up is huge,” Smith said. “We did a better job of clearing the way for Lou, made things a little easier on him.”
Luongo, who missed the past two games, was back in the nets against his old Vancouver teammate Schneider. Although Luongo said he wasn’t sharp early, he was good throughout.
“A little bit too much rest,” he said. “I was a bit rusty in the first period, not moving well in the crease. But I settled in, got the game going. It’s not easy coming in without practice time ... but the boys did a great job in front of me.”
The Panthers were able to get a little breathing room with 1:05 left after Jussi Jokinen scored into an empty net. It was Jokinen’s second goal in the past five games.
Vincent Trocheck got Florida’s final goal — also into an empty net — with 16 seconds remaining.
▪ The bruised and battered Panthers may be getting a little help back in the immediate future – with some of their missed top players not too far away from a return.
Rowe said Monday it’s possible Seth Griffith (concussion) and Greg McKegg (upper body) could be back for Wednesday’s game against the Islanders.
Griffith has been out since last Wednesday; McKegg missed his first game Monday after leaving Saturday’s loss to the Bruins.
Sasha Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Alex Petrovic all skated Monday as they came on the quick road trip to the New York metro area to be part of the team’s first fathers’ trip as well as to attend the annual team dinner with owner Vinnie Viola in Brooklyn on Tuesday night.
Huberdeau (Achilles’ tendon) has been out since the preseason; Petrovic (ankle) has been out since Nov. 15 and Barkov (lower body) has missed the past six games.
Nick Bjugstad, out at least two weeks with a groin injury, didn’t skate but did off-ice workouts.
▪ With Luongo back after missing the past two games, Sam Brittain was returned to the ECHL Manchester Monarchs after backing up James Reimer on Saturday night.
▪ Trocheck looked like he may join the list of Florida’s injured players after a big hit – and being bloodied – on the first shift of Monday’s game. Trocheck was back after cleaning up after a brief stay on the bench.
▪ Malgin left Monday’s game after hitting the ice and remaining there for a few moments until team medical trainer Tommy Alva raced onto the far corner of the ice to check on him.
Malgin finally stood up and skated off the ice under his own power.
If Malgin was concussed, he would be the third Florida player (Smith, Griffith) to suffer such an injury in the past few weeks.
Rowe said there was no update on Malgin’s status.
▪ Rowe was asked if he liked Jaromir Jagr’s long mane: “I love his hair. Because I have none.”