By Ryan S. Clark
SUNRISE -- When it came time to meet with the media around noon, Florida Panthers coach Gerard Gallant was non-committal about when Roberto Luongo would return.
An hour later, Luongo received a vote of confidence. The Panthers assigned goaltender Dan Ellis to San Antonio in the AHL after Sunday’s practice at the BB&T Center.
It leaves the Panthers with two goaltenders and increases the possibility of Luongo playing at some point during the team’s two-game, back-to-back trip.
The Panthers open against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday and face the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.
“He skated good today and everything was good,” Gallant said after practice.
“He’ll see the trainer. We’ll know more from that. He’s making the trip.”
Gallant initially said Ellis was supposed to make the trip. But as Sunday showed, things change.
Luongo’s return appeared likely. He was on the ice for the entire practice. So was his backup, Al Montoya.
Luongo and Montoya both worked during the morning skate while Ellis, who was recalled on Nov. 27, was on the bench. The only time Ellis left the bench was during stretching.
The Panthers have been without Luongo since Nov.
26. He suffered an arm injury halfway through the team’s 1-0 win over the Carolina Hurricanes.
“You want to come back when you can contribute and not endanger hurting yourself,” Luongo said after practice.
“It was not a serious injury. It has only been three days. But you want to make sure you’re good enough to go and not jeopardize the rest of your season.”
Luongo was sharp in practice stopping all 10 shots he faced while the team was working on the power play and penalty kill. His movement didn’t appear to be an issue.
His best save came when he deflected a shot from the point with his blocker.
The three-time Vezina Trophy finalist said he’s expecting to start one of the two games on the trip.
“I haven’t talked to the coaching staff yet about that,” Luongo said.
“Usually in back-to-backs, we split games anyway.”
Montoya relieved Luongo in the game against the Hurricanes, stopping 22 shots. He also had another 22-save effort in a 3-2 win over the Ottawa Senators last Friday.
If Montoya, who is 2-1-1 with a 1.99 goals against average, were to play against the Blue Jackets, it would not be a surprise.
The Blue Jackets are last in the NHL with a 6-15-2 record. They’re mired in a six-game losing streak and have been outscored 24 to 8 during that stretch. The Panthers will face the Blue Jackets again on Thursday.
“Yeah, I’m good to go,” said Luongo, who is 7-5-5 with a 2.33 GAA this season.
“We have a back-to-back coming up here and I don’t know exactly what the plan is but I’m ready to go.”
Aside from Luongo, the team will also welcome back leading scorer Jussi Jokinen.
Jokinen, who has two goals and 10 assists this season, missed his first game after battling the flu. He was also at the morning skate.
“He just had the flu and he skated good today,” Gallant said.
“He feels good so he’ll be coming too.”
Sports | Dec. 1, 2014 | Page 3C
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