At 36, Roberto Luongo has raised his game to a different level, with the three-time Vezina Trophy finalist again putting himself in the conversation for NHL top goalie honours.
But it's Luongo's skill in another area that many hope can help the Florida Panthers avoid a stretch of losses on the heels of their franchise-record 12-game win streak.
In the 48 hours between the Panthers' 3-2 overtime loss in Vancouver on Monday and Wednesday's puck drop in Calgary, the former Canucks captain probably will play the role of leader and offer advice to many of his younger teammates, including young forwards Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau and Nick Bjugstad, along with others.
As the veteran netminder told reporters earlier this week in Vancouver, when recalling the March 4, 2014 trade from the Canucks to a Panthers outfit that was headed to its 13th missed playoffs in the previous 14 years: "I didn't go there to just retire. I went there to turn the corner of the franchise and get them back in the playoffs."
'I want to have at least, at least, one more crack at [the Stanley Cup] if not more. It's about winning hockey games.' - Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo
So far, Luongo has delivered. He's a big reason Florida sits atop the Atlantic Division standings with a 26-12-5 record entering Wednesday's matchup at the Saddledome at 9:30 p.m. ET.
Luongo, who had a personal-best nine-game win streak halted by Daniel Sedin's OT goal on Monday night, sports a 2.08 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, superior numbers to his career averages of 2.48 and .920, respectively.
"I want to have at least, at least, one more crack at [the Stanley Cup] if not more," the Montreal native told reporters. "It's about winning hockey games. For me, that was one of my main goals when I went back there [to Florida]."
The Panthers have garnered a lot of attention in 43 contests this season, from the play of their leading scorer Jaromir Jagr at age 43 to the development of his linemates, Huberdeau and Barkov, to a bright future on the blue-line, anchored by Aaron Ekblad, who will likely will miss the Calgary game after being hit head-first into the glass by Matt Hendricks in Edmonton on Sunday. But Luongo would be the first to say that nothing is guaranteed.
Work to do
"We haven't really accomplished anything right now," he said. "It's just a matter of accumulating more points and trying to put them in the bank so we're not trying to fight to get in [the playoffs] come March and April."
What Luongo and company would like to do Wednesday is get back to the win column in Calgary, where they have claimed victory in three of their last four visits. Turning things around quickly after having a win streak snapped hasn't always worked out for Florida this season.
- After two straight wins in mid-October, the Panthers dropped three in a row.
- Florida won in Dallas (6-2) against Colorado (4-1) in late October, only to drop five straight before defeating the visiting Calgary Flames on Nov. 10.
- Panthers swept a home-and-home set with Tampa Bay in mid-November and lost their next three.
- Florida won five in a row from Nov. 27-Dec. 4 and then suffered a pair of 4-2 losses to New Jersey and Ottawa.
"We've been playing close games a little bit too much," said Huberdeau, who is second to Jagr in team scoring with 31 points in 43 games. "At least we got a point [in Vancouver] and are ready for the next game."