When Roberto Luongo had hip surgery in May, coach Gerard Gallant was assured his goalie would be ready for opening night.
Gallant says he believed it.
Few others did.
Yet, when the Panthers take the ice Thursday night for their season opener, it will be Luongo leading the charge out of the tunnel and toward his spot in the cage.
It has been a long road to here.
"It's like a kid on Christmas Eve,'' Luongo said the day before Florida's opener against the New Jersey Devils (7:30 p.m., FSFL).
Luongo, 37, said he began having problems with his hip last season, the sharp pain coming and going throughout the year.
At first, Luongo thought he had a groin injury. Because the pain was so intermittent, he didn't worry about it.
"I thought it was weird, I couldn't understand why it felt like I hurt my groin but it would go away," he said earlier this summer.
"I just kept going along. Since it always went away, I didn't think too much about it."
On March 3 in Denver, Luongo went wide to make a save and felt a similar pain -- and it didn't go away.
"My whole side went out," he said.
Luongo had a torn labrum but a lot of season remaining. He played through it.
"We treated it, managed it with exercises every day," he said. "I didn't feel it that much in the playoffs which was a good thing."
Following Florida's playoff exit, Luongo had surgery in May.
After being on crutches for a month, Luongo began his arduous rehab on and off the ice.
For hours, Luongo would walk in place in his pool -- so much so, he ground a hole into the coating of the floor.
Soon, he was back on the ice, working with goalie coach Robb Tallas.
Tallas told Gallant that Luongo would be ready because he knew the work his goalie would put into being ready.
"It was a major surgery and after it happened, you see him walk through the doors and you don't know if it's going to take five months or seven,'' Tallas said.
"To his credit, he was committed all summer and it wasn't easy. It's your hip and that's painful. You're immobile so things get pushed back. Once he healed, it became a mobility thing then conditioning. He had a lot of catch-up to do."
Said Gallant: "I believed it because I know how hard Louie works. I was expecting him to be ready. When I saw him on the ice six weeks ago, I knew there was no doubt he would be here."
Luongo had a terrific year last season, earning another All-Star nod as he helped Florida win a record 47 games with a franchise-best 103 points.
During the offseason, Florida went out and got goalie Reto Berra from Colorado as insurance in case Luongo wasn't ready for the start of the year and also signed veteran James Reimer.
Reimer, 28, will serve as Luongo's backup this season but will definitely get more playing time than those in that spot previously.
The Panthers expect Reimer to carry more of the workload so the team isn't as dependent on Luongo -- allowing him to also be better rested come the postseason.
Tallas was one who pushed for the Reimer signing and Luongo is on board.
Although some questioned whether Luongo was coming to Florida to retire and ride out his contract when he was reacquired by the Panthers in 2014, Tallas said Luongo's play and dedication to return this summer is proof he did anything but.
"I think the people who said and wrote that are eating their words right now," Tallas said.
"From the moment Roberto was traded back, he made it clear this was not to settle and fade off. He grabbed the bull buy the horns in his first game and was on the ice even earlier that summer. He's committed to win and wants to do it here."