Florida Panthers' Roberto Luongo climbs to fifth in career wins with shutout

By Dave Lozo, The Sports Xchange  |  Jan. 10, 2017 at 12:42 AM
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NEWARK, N.J. -- It had been nearly a full calendar year since Roberto Luongo's last shutout. He ended that drought Monday night and made history at Prudential Center.

The 37-year-old goaltender stopped 28 shots and moved into fifth place on the NHL's career wins list as the Florida Panthers defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-0.

Luongo, who had missed the past two games with an upper-body injury, passed Hall of Famer Terry Sawchuk with the 448th victory of his career. The shutout was Luongo's first since Jan. 22, 2016, and the win was his first since Dec. 20.

Players are adept at deflecting attention from themselves when asked about an individual accomplishment and Luongo was no different.

"I'm not too worried about it," Luongo said. "I think right now, I just want to get some wins. Our goal is to make the playoffs, so that's what my focus is on, 100 percent. The other things will take care of itself and we'll reflect on them when it's all said and done.

"But as a group, we have one goal in mind and that's to play good every night, keep collecting some points and try to get back in this thing."

The Panthers (18-16-8) won for just third time in nine games and are two points out of third place in the Atlantic Division and four points out of a wild-card spot.

Last season, the Panthers set a franchise record with 103 points, but they have spent most of this season in the bottom half of the standings and replaced coach Gerard Gallant with general manager Tom Rowe in November.

Injuries have also been an issue for the Panthers throughout the first half of the season, but they might have found the recipe for winning without their best offensive players.

"We just have to be stingy," said Reilly Smith, whose first-period power-play goal was all the Panthers needed. "Goals probably aren't going to come in bunches. If you can keep them out of your net, you have a chance in every game."

Another automated response from a goaltender after a shutout is to laud teammates for keeping shots to the outside and making life easy. But Luongo, who had to make no more than two difficult saves all night, wasn't lying.

"They only had six shots (in the third period) before the last minute," Luongo said. "It was a great effort. I thought our third (forward) did a good job of staying high (in the offensive zone), eliminating odd-man rushes. Whatever they had, it was mostly from the outside.

"I kinda like those games."

Jussi Jokinen and Vincent Trocheck added empty-netters in the final minute to seal the win.

The crucial play in the game came with 7:43 remaining in the first period when the Devils' Pavel Zacha was assessed a five-minute major penalty for boarding Panthers forward Denis Malgin, who left the game and did not return.

Panthers forward Shawn Thornton came to the aid of his teammate and was assessed a two-minute penalty for roughing, but Smith converted during the three-minute power play against Devils goaltender Cory Schneider, who made 26 saves and thought Zacha deserved nothing more than two minutes for the hit on Malgin.

"It looked bad, and obviously you hope he's OK," Schneider said, "but they were skating north up the ice. I think Pav went to go shoulder to shoulder on him and (Malgin) turned toward the boards to either protect the puck or turn up and right as he turned, Pav went to go to hit him.

"He didn't come running at him from 100 feet and bury him from behind. He didn't hit him 6 feet away from the boards. He was just trying to skate with him. Yeah, two minutes, for sure. ... I've seen much worse than that."

Even with the dubious decision on the penalty, the Devils (16-18-8) still failed to score a goal and will now embark on what Taylor Hall calls a "make or break" four-game road trip through Alberta, British Columbia and Minnesota. Only two teams are scoring fewer goals per game than the Devils at 2.19.

"It comes down to work ethic," Devils coach John Hynes said. "It comes down to being able to check, being able to shoot the puck, retrieve the puck. We have to get more passion in that area."

NOTES: Panthers C Nick Bjugstad was placed on injured reserve with an upper-body injury. He is expected to miss two weeks. ... Panthers C Seth Griffith (upper body) was cleared for contact and could be back Wednesday. ... Panthers C Greg McKegg (upper body) is day to day. ... Panthers D Dylan McIlrath was a healthy scratch. ... Devils D Andy Greene (hand) missed his third consecutive game. ... Devils D Yohann Auvitu (lower body) did not play after suffering an injury in the Devils' previous game against the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday. ... Devils LW Luke Gazdic was a healthy scratch.

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