Roberto Luongo fully expected to be spearheading the Vancouver Canucks' playoff drive this month. Instead, the veteran goaltender will attempt to derail his former teammates when the Florida Panthers host Vancouver on Sunday afternoon. The matchup comes 12 days after the stunning trade in which Luongo was shipped to Florida after spending eight seasons with the Canucks. "I was in that locker room a week and a half ago," Luongo said. "I don't know how I'm going to feel but it's definitely going to feel weird."
Luongo aside, Vancouver has more pressing matters on its plate - namely finding a way to break out of a 3-12-1 swoon and remain relevant in the postseason chase. Dallas holds a five-point lead - with three games in hand - over Vancouver for the second wild card in the Western Conference, prompting Canucks captain Henrik Sedin to term Sunday's game a must win. "We have to go down to Florida here and get these two games," Sedin said. "Come back and at least give ourselves a chance down the stretch."
TV: 3 p.m. ET, RSN Pacific (Vancouver), FSN Florida (Miami)
ABOUT THE CANUCKS (30-29-10): Promising goaltender Jacob Markstrom came to Vancouver as part of the deal for Luongo, but coach John Tortorella has elected to ride rookie Eddie Lack, who will make his 10th consecutive start despite allowing at least four goals in three of his last five appearances. "Playing against Roberto in the first game is going to be a tough game," Lack said. "They got an offensive team down there." Ryan Kesler, who leads the punchless Canucks with 22 goals, will be sidelined for two weeks due to a knee injury suffered in Wednesday's victory at Winnipeg.
ABOUT THE PANTHERS (25-35-7): Luongo evened his record with Florida at 2-2-0 with a 28-save performance as the Panthers halted a three-game skid with a 5-3 victory over New Jersey on Friday night. It was only the fourth victory in 15 games (4-11-0) for the Panthers, who received multiple-point efforts from Brad Boyes, defenseman Brian Campbell and Jonathan Huberdeau. "Teams are fighting hard for a (playoff) spot and for us we've got to continue to play well through injuries," Boyes said. "It's a lot more fun winning, so we want to do that."
1. Luongo is seeking back-to-back victories for the first time since Jan. 18-21.
2. Huberdeau scored the deciding tally in a shootout as Florida won at Vancouver on Nov. 20.
3. The Canucks have lost 10 straight against Eastern Conference opponents.
PREDICTION: Panthers 3, Canucks 2