Florida Panthers

Dan Ellis might get third start for Panthers with Roberto Luongo questionable

Florida Panthers goalie Dan Ellis (39) celebrates with Derek Mackenzie after the Panthers defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 in a shootout Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla.
Florida Panthers goalie Dan Ellis (39) celebrates with Derek Mackenzie after the Panthers defeated the New York Islanders 4-3 in a shootout Saturday, March 7, 2015, in Sunrise, Fla. AP

The status of goalie Roberto Luongo remains up in the air for Thursday’s game against visiting Winnipeg, which means Dan Ellis could make his third consecutive start.

After spending much of this season as Florida’s starting goalie in the minors, Ellis is ready for the challenge.

“You don’t necessarily want to be in the minors,” Ellis said, “but it has been helpful. Over the course of your career, sometimes you have to find your game and maybe you have to go down to the minors to do so. It’s worked out well. I’m fortunate to have had the experience.”

For years, Ellis has been a backup goalie behind a starter who gobbled up much of the starts.

By going to San Antonio at the start of the season, Ellis has focused on being a starter for the first time in a long time.

“Being able to play so many games has really helped me,” Ellis said.

“I’m used to being on a team where the other guy carried the load, and I didn’t get to play as much. That makes things a little more difficult. By playing a lot of games in the minors, you notice that you don’t carry your mistakes with you. If you give up a bad goal, there’s always tomorrow. As the backup, a bad goal or game can stay with you for weeks at a time.”

His newfound stature has helped not only himself but the Panthers as well.

Although it looked liked Florida was stuck with Ellis and his $1million contract when the season began, having him in the fold when Luongo (shoulder) and Al Montoya (groin) were injured in the same game last week was quite fortunate.

Ellis returned to Florida not only with NHL experience, but also he is now ready to hold down the starting job as long as needed.

Sure, the Panthers want Luongo back right away — Thursday would be ideal — but they know Ellis is going to give them everything he has to keep them in the playoff race. Florida trails Boston by four points for the final playoff spot.

“He’s been huge, and he was put in a tough spot but has been key for our team,” Luongo said. “He’s kept us in both games with key saves and got us points out of both games. We know at this time of the year how crucial it is to get every point in the standings. I’m really happy for Dan and the job he’s done for the team.”

Luongo was the only Florida player to practice on the ice Tuesday and definitely saw more work than he did Monday. He would not commit to playing against Winnipeg on Thursday, although he didn’t rule it out either.

Luongo is expected to be back in the coming days, either Thursday or even Sunday in New York against the Rangers.

On Tuesday, Luongo took shots from goalie coach Robb Tallas but limited most of his work to his left side.

“I took a few shots [on the right side], but it’s not quite there yet,” Luongo said after his workout. “We’re making progress every day and will see where we’re at Wednesday. I want to be able to react without thinking, and it’s just not there yet.’’

Luongo expects to practice before the team Wednesday and might join them afterward. His status for Thursday’s game will likely be determined after Wednesday’s workout.

“I’m not ruling anything out at this point,” he said. “It gets better every day. I wish I could say I was playing Thursday but I just don’t know.”

ROOKIE RECORD

Overlooked in last week’s loss to the Maple Leafs was Aaron Ekblad setting the franchise record for goals by a rookie defenseman as his 11th topped Ed Jovanovski’s previous high set in 1995-96.

Not only are Ekblad and Jovanovski the only first overall picks made by the Panthers in the NHL Draft, but also both are from Windsor, Ontario. Jovanovski, Florida’s captain the previous two seasons, had his contract bought out a day after Ekblad was taken by the Panthers in the 2014 NHL Draft.

▪ The Panthers announced they will not be raising prices for season-ticket holders for the 2015-16 season. … The team will hold an open practice at the Coral Springs IceDen on Wednesday at 11 a.m. The workout is free to the public.

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