For part of the four minutes that clouded the Florida Panthers’ 5-4 shootout loss to the New York Islanders on Monday night, Roberto Luongo laid motionless in the crease. His left leg was bent. His right one was straight. His face was pinned to the ice.
On the ice in front of the Panthers bench, James Reimer warmed, stretching out, loosening up as he prepared to replace an injured Luongo for the second time in the season’s first two months. A pair of Florida trainers checked on Luongo on the opposite end of the ice, and Colton Sceviour and Alex Petrovic watched over their teammate.
Luongo would eventually turn over, then limp off the ice, unable to put any weight on his right leg as he left the game with 17:29 remaining in the second period. He disappeared into the Panthers tunnel at 8:40 p.m. It’s unknown when he’ll reemerge again.
After the game, Panthers coach Bob Boughner didn’t have a timeline on Luongo, saying that he’ll be reevaluated Tuesday and get an MRI. Boughner said Luongo was “hobbling a bit” after the game but didn’t know if it would be a long-term injury.
“I don’t really know, to be honest with you, and make a comment on that,” Boughner said. “I don’t know. I would probably say he’s out for Thursday if I had to guess.”
Luongo’s pain stemmed from a save he made on Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock. Pulock blasted a slap shot from the blue line in front of the New York bench, forcing Luongo to kick out his right leg for a pad save. The puck caromed to the boards and Luongo crumpled to the ice.
The injury worsened a night in which Florida lost its third consecutive game, and fell farther behind in its attempt to salvage a slow start. The consecutive wins from last week’s road trip drifted deeper into the rear-view mirror as the Panthers missed an opportunity to climb in the weak Atlantic Division.
Mathew Barzal scored the game-winning goal in the shootout for New York. Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau each missed in the shootout for the Panthers.
“Me, Barky and Huby, we have to be able to put the puck in the net,” Trocheck said.
Keith Yandle and Denis Malgin scored for the Panthers, and Aaron Ekblad and Barkov notched power-play goals for Florida. Yandle and Trocheck each registered multi-point nights.
After replacing Luongo, Reimer struggled. He allowed three goals on the first eight shots he faced, including John Tavares’ go-ahead at 18:21 of the second period. Tavares tucked a shot through Reimer’s legs minutes after Brock Nelson beat him on the rush to tie the game at 3.
Reimer finished the game with 16 saves on 19 Islanders shots.
“Obviously, I wish I would’ve played better in the second,” Reimer said. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”
Boughner added: “It was a combination of him coming in cold and obviously, after Louie went down, that took a little bit of wind out of our sails. It took us four, five shifts to find it again. It’s a pretty traumatic thing and it turned the game around a little bit.”
Trocheck was a linchpin in Florida’s second-period push that flipped a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 lead. While already on the power play, Trocheck drew a roughing penalty by New York’s Cal Clutterbuck. The penalty gave Florida a 5-on-3 advantage, which ended two seconds before Ekblad tied at the game at 2.
Fifty-nine seconds after Ekblad’s goal, Clutterbuck again found himself in hot water. After a scrum formed in the far corner of the ice, Clutterbuck banged his stick on the Islanders bench in protest of the officials. He was called for a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty and a 10-minute misconduct.
On the ensuing power play, Barkov buried a shot past Islanders goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Trocheck had assists on both power-play goals.
But Florida’s larger concern is not Monday’s game but rather Luongo’s health.
Luongo’s injury is the latest this calendar year for him. In October, he suffered a right hand injury against the Pittsburgh Penguins when his hand was wedged into the goalpost. In March, he missed the last five weeks of the season with a hip injury.
In the offseason, Luongo adopted a new gameday routine that was supposed to prevent his hip injury from returning. He’s taken a new approach to recovering the day after games, including the occasional maintenance day at practice. The measures couldn’t keep Luongo from a pair of early-season maladies.
After returning from a two-week absence earlier this season, Luongo regained the form that made him one of the game’s elite goaltenders. In the 10 games leading into Monday night, Luongo had a .936 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average. He carried the team on most nights, and Boughner often labeled him the team’s best player in some stretches.
“He is a professional in every sense of the word,” Trocheck said. “He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He’s a Hall of Famer in every sense of the word. And he’s a great goaltender on the ice. He’s done everything for this team since he’s been in the organization. There’s not much negative you could say about Lu. He’s a great hockey player, a great guy, a great leader.”
Losing Luongo would force Reimer back into the spotlight as the team’s No. 1 starter. In the six games Luongo missed earlier this season, Reimer struggled mightily. He had a .894 save percentage and 3.95 goals against average. He was pulled in back-to-back games as Tampa Bay and Columbus each embarrassed the Panthers.
Reimer appeared to be improving in his last couple games, with a strong effort against the Rangers in New York and a 44-save game Saturday in Carolina.
“It looks like he found his game again,” Boughner said prior to Monday’s game. “He’s making some big saves. Louie’s been solid for a few weeks here. If we get that kind of goaltending, giving us a chance to win every night, again, it’s about us competing and not having 10 or 15-minute lulls.”