TV: FOX Sports Florida
TIME: 4 p.m.
LOS ANGELES — Florida Panthers goaltender Roberto Luongo hasn’t been the same against the Los Angeles Kings since he was benched two games into the first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Up against the eighth-seeded Kings while still a member of the Vancouver Canucks, Luongo was replaced by Cory Schneider for Game 3 and never returned to the ice in the five-game defeat. The Kings went on to win their first Stanley Cup title that year.
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Since then, Luongo is 2-7-2 against Los Angeles with a .895 save percentage and 3.44 goals-against average. Overall, he’s 16-16-5 in his career against the Kings with a .914 save percentage and 2.54 GAA.
The Panthers (7-9-2) continue their three-game California trip with a stop in Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon, and there’s a good chance Florida coach Bob Boughner will start Luongo, mainly because he’s been stellar lately.
Luongo most recently stopped 35 shots in a 2-0 victory at the San Jose Sharks on Thursday night, his 74th career shutout. In his past five appearances since returning from a right-hand injury, Luongo has a .943 save percentage and 2.17 GAA.
“He never ceases to amaze,” Boughner told reporters after the win against San Jose. “He’s given us confidence the way he’s playing right now. We sort of play with a little bit of swagger when we see that kind of Luongo.”
Luongo will be up against a Los Angeles team that’s desperate for a win.
The Kings (11-6-2) have lost four in a row, all at home, and five straight overall at Staples Center. They hadn’t lost five consecutive games at home in nine years.
“For whatever reason, we haven’t done a great job at home here in this stretch,” Los Angeles coach John Stevens said. “It’s something that we’ve got to get a handle on in a hurry.”
Consistency in a number of areas seems to be the No. 1 issue. The Kings will make a stiff push on one shift, and then can’t get out of their zone on the next. They’ll win the first period, then get dominated in the second.
“I think the big focus for us is to come out with that urgency and that desperation for a full 60 (minutes),” Los Angeles defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “There are times where we control the game and take over, and a mental error here and there and we give up a goal.”
In their latest loss to the Boston Bruins on Thursday, the Kings faced a team that was missing several key offensive players and was playing for the second consecutive night. They couldn’t sustain any pressure on Boston goalie Tuukka Rask, who was also playing for the second consecutive night, and consistently had difficulty putting together passes to escape their zone.
“It’s tough to win in the league, and we’re going to have to dig down,” Stevens said. “You can’t have part of your lineup going. You need your whole lineup going if you’re going to win. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing.”
Florida will be playing the second of three games in four days, all against rugged teams. It’s possible that Boughner may save Luongo for the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday evening, and start backup James Reimer against the Kings, but Reimer has been pulled in two of his last three starts and is winless in his past four.
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