Five goalies dotted the ice Wednesday at BB&T Center after the Panthers finished practice — the winners from the Panthers’ Goal of a Lifetime contest (Dustin Smith and Bob Ruggiero), two NHL backups (Dan Ellis and Sam Brittain) and the Panthers injured No. 1 puckstopper, Roberto Luongo.
Though none of the Panthers’ losses with Dan Ellis in goal can be traced through his five-hole, Luongo is the goalie the Panthers most want to see in goal Thursday night against Detroit. There’s a chance of that happening.
“I feel pretty good,” said Luongo, who has missed six games with a right shoulder injury. “It was a good day [Wednesday]. I was able to get through practice. We’ll see how it is [Thursday] morning when I get up and get ready for practice. Make a decision afterwards.
“This was my first really full practice without any restrictions. I skated yesterday with the guys at the morning skate, but it was brief so today was really about just treating it like a regular practice day and seeing where I’m at.”
Asked how many healthy goalies he had on the ice, Panthers coach Gerard Gallant laughed, “Five.”
But while saying many positive things, Gallant stopped short of giving Luongo a full-course green flag.
“I’m not going to say he’s going,” he said. “I’m not going there. I’m going to say ‘See how he feels after today’ because it’s the first time he’s really tested it. Usually if things flare up, they flare up after practice.”
Nothing in Ellis’ performances or in the way the Panthers played Detroit in their previous meetings this year says the Panthers victory hopes — and possibly playoff hopes — rely on the health of Luongo’s right shoulder.
The 2-1 loss to the Rangers Sunday and Tuesday’s 3-2 loss to Montreal turned the Panthers margin of error thinner than their recent playoff history, however.
“Dan’s been great, A-1,” Gallant said. “Of the five games, six games he’s played, he’s been sharp in every one. The last two games, as you’ve seen, we’re not quitting. We’re battling, we’re working hard. We could’ve won both those games. It’s disappointing we didn’t get any points. We played well enough to win both games against two really good teams.
“I want that effort for the next 12 games. We play that way, we’ll have a chance.”
Panthers leading scorer Nick Bjugstad sat out practice again for “maintenance.”
Obviously, having Bjugstad fresh for Thursday night trumps participation in a light practice.
He played 18:58 in the loss at the Rangers Sunday and 18:05 in the home loss to Montreal, the most he’s played in two games over three days since the December home-and-home with Pittsburgh, when his total ice time was 37:03 also.
The Panthers announced a four-year affiliation agreement with the American Hockey League’s Portland Pirates that’ll begin next season, ending their four-year affiliation with the San Antonio Rampage.
RED WINGS AT PANTHERS
When, where: 7:30 p.m, BB&T Center.
TV, radio: Fox Sports Florida; WQAM (560 AM).
Season series: Panthers lead 2-1, but Detroit won the most recent meeting, 5-4, in Sunrise.
The game: Expect a crackling pace and room for displaying the skill each team has. Detroit will be without center Pavel Datsyuk, possibly the best two-way player in the NHL, because of an injury. The Red Wings still start Petr Mrazek, who gave up four goals against the Panthers in the earlier game in Sunrise, but did well not to give up more.