Florida Panthers

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo has hero’s night in return to face Vancouver Canucks

Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo (1) acknowledges the crowd following a tribute to former Vancouver Canucks during an NHL hockey game between the teams in Vancouver, British Columbia on Jan. 8, 2015.
Florida Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo (1) acknowledges the crowd following a tribute to former Vancouver Canucks during an NHL hockey game between the teams in Vancouver, British Columbia on Jan. 8, 2015. AP

On a night in which his eight seasons here were celebrated, Roberto Luongo said he got everything he could have wanted.

Not only did the Panthers’ goalkeeper get a rousing ovation from the sold-out crowd, not only did they cheer his name at every save, but Luongo also left Vancouver with a victory.

Luongo, winless in three previous games against the Canucks, made 32 saves as the Panthers topped Vancouver 3-1 late Thursday night.

Al Montoya started for Luongo in Friday’s late game against the host Calgary Flames.

“This was special,’’ said Luongo, who was traded back to the Panthers from Vancouver last March after a contentious few seasons.

“The whole night they were cheering me on. I’m very thankful for the support and very happy things went the way they did. We got the win and I was able to enjoy a great night.”

With the victory, Luongo tied Dominik Hasek for 11th all-time with his 389th win. Luongo also has the distinction of beating all 30 teams in the NHL.

Things didn’t look to go Luongo’s way early as the Canucks took a 1-0 lead.

Then the trio of Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov and Brad Boyes took over, creating one scoring opportunity after another.

Midway through the first, Huberdeau picked up his first of two goals not long after the Canucks celebrated Luongo’s time here with a 45-second video on the scoreboard.

Luongo didn’t seem to want to watch the piece, saying later he was worried about getting too sappy. Luongo did acknowledge the mostly positive reaction from the sold-out crowd by tipping his mask and tapping his chest.

“I didn’t want to get too emotional and have to fight that afterward,’’ Luongo said.

Added coach Gerard Gallant: “Lou played an outstanding game and was great for us. He was outstanding. Definitely the No. 1 star.”

In the second, Barkov got his first goal since Nov. 11 by deflecting a long shot from rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad.

Barkov had originally been awarded Florida’s first goal as it appeared he knocked in a loose puck. The scoring was changed during the intermission, although Barkov didn’t seem to mind.

“Big win for us,’’ he said.

The Panthers took a two-goal lead into the third period when Huberdeau got his second of the night. Dmitry Kulikov caught Huberdeau streaking up the ice with a crisp long-distance pass and Huberdeau walked in on Ryan Miller and scored top shelf.

“I got the puck, saw him in front of the defenseman and laid it out there for him to skate into,’’ Kulikov said. “I love making plays like that, especially when we scored. That made it hard for them to come back.’’

Said Huberdeau: “Things were working for us. We were in their zone the whole night.’’

After the Panthers killed off a four-minute penalty (one in which they were down two skaters for 40 seconds), Luongo was run over by Derek Dorsett.

Luongo took umbrage to being hit again and threw punches at Dorsett before Huberdeau jumped in to defend his goalie.

“I thought he was going to fight,’’ Huberdeau said with a smile. “The most important thing for us is to protect our goalie. We’re always going to protect him. He’s been great for us.’’

Said Luongo: “That was the third or fourth time I got knocked over. I had just had enough.’’

Luongo ended up finishing things off without much problem after that and was mobbed by his teammates when the final horn sounded.

After they all skated toward the locker room, Luongo made his way to the bench to a rousing ovation. Luongo took off his mask, waving his stick in the air in salute to the cheering throng that remained.

After Huberdeau was announced as the game’s second star, the “Lou’’ chant got louder. Everyone knew who would be coming back out of the tunnel to be awarded the player-of-the-game honors.

Luongo skated over to a crowd of kids and tossed his stick over the glass. He then applauded the fans still there.

“It was nice to receive that acknowledgement,’’ Luongo said. “I played here for eight years, gave my heart and soul the whole time. There were some ups and downs obviously, but I’m glad the positive was remembered more than the negative.’’

SHORE DEALT

The Panthers finally found a home for center Drew Shore, trading him to Calgary in exchange for former Florida draftee Corban Knight.

Shore, 23, played in 67 games with the Panthers but has been stuck in the minors since last season. Shore can play one NHL game before being waiver-eligible so instead of losing him for nothing, the Panthers reacquired Knight.

“We tried to fit him into the mix here, but we’ve been healthy and had a busy offseason signing [Dave] Bolland and [Derek] MacKenzie,’’ GM Dale Tallon said.

“We’re very deep in the middle. It was frustrating on both ends that we couldn’t get him more action. This is an opportunity for him. I have nothing but good things to say about the kid. He’s very valuable, but we have a lot of depth.’’

Knight, 24, will replace Shore on the AHL San Antonio roster. Knight, who basically became a free agent when he didn’t sign with Florida in 2013, played nine NHL games with Calgary.

▪ Kulikov missed Friday’s game at Calgary with the flu. Erik Gudbranson returned to the lineup after missing the first three games of the road trip.

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