It took Roberto Luongo 12 games, but the Florida Panthers’ veteran goaltender finally made his BB&T Center debut on Thursday.
And he put up a vintage performance in the process.
Luongo saved 26 of 27 shots against him while receiving pivotal support from his offense in the second period in a 4-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers at the BB&T Center that marked the beginning of a three-game homestand and a stretch of 14 games in 24 days.
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Luongo missed nine games after injuring his right knee in the season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Oct. 6. The Panthers went 2-5-2 in that stretch before he returned for the second game of Florida’s NHL Global Series matchups in Helsinki, Finland, against the Winnipeg Jets.
On Thursday, the 39-year-old and six-time All Star showed that he can still put up marquee performances in goal as he earned his 473rd career win — 11 away from tying Ed Belfour for third most in NHL history.
Luongo stopped nine shots in a scoreless first period as the Panthers struggled to maintain possession and slow down a feisty Oilers offense.
“He kept us in it,” forward Nick Bjugstad said in an on-ice interview after the first period. “Now we have to contribute on the other side.”
Shortly into the second period, the Panthers (4-5-3) did just that.
Evgenii Dadonov gave the Panthers the 1-0 lead with 16:15 left in the second period following a series of tight passes from Aleksander Barkov and Mike Hoffman. His light tap shot made it past Oilers goaltender Cam Talbot’s reach and into the back of the net for Dadonov’s team-leading seventh goal of the year. Hoffman’s secondary assist on the goal extended his point scoring streak to 10 consecutive games. He is the fourth player in Panthers history to record a point streak of at least 10 games.
Fewer than two minutes later, Bjugstad doubled the Panthers’ lead, scoring on a pass from Bogdan Kiselevich that came off a deflected shot.
Edmonton (8-7-1) scored its lone goal came less than 30 seconds into the third period when Leon Draisaitl slapped a shot past Luongo. The Panthers responded three minutes later with a power play goal from Jonathan Huberdeau on a feed from Vincent Trocheck. Florida closed scoring when Colton Sceviour flicked a shot from center ice into an open net with 48 seconds left in regulation.
Overall, the Panthers outshot Edmonton 26-18 after the first period and withstood four Edmonton power plays in the win.
The Panthers continue their homestand at 7 p.m. Saturday against the New York Islanders. The team will honor Bill Torrey, the first president of the Panthers’ organization who died in May at the age of 83, in a pregame ceremony as part of their “Legacy Saturdays” this season. The homestand concludes at 5 p.m. Sunday against the Ottawa Senators.