VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Roberto Luongo looked up at the scoreboard and tapped his heart to acknowledge the crowd after a video tribute honoring his eight years with Vancouver Canucks.
Then, it was back to business.
Luongo stopped 32 shots in his return to Vancouver on Thursday as the Florida Panthers defeated the Canucks 3-1.
"I just wanted to give my thanks, my appreciation for not only the welcome, but for the eight years," Luongo said of the first-period salute. "There's a lot of memories in those eight years and it was just my way to thank the fans."
Luongo's career while in Vancouver included a gold-medal victory for Canada at the 2010 Olympics, losing Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals and a goalie controversy that led to his eventual exit. But it was like old times on this night as fans rekindled the familiar "Loo!" chant every time he touched the puck and cheered him after he was named the game's first star.
"It's nice to receive that acknowledgment," Luongo said. "I gave my heart and soul the whole time. There was some ups and downs obviously, but at the end of the day I am glad the positive is remembered more than the negative."
Jonathan Huberdeau, with two goals and an assist, and Aleksander Barkov scored for the Panthers (18-11-9), who are in a surprising hunt for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
In his time with the Canucks, Luongo won at least 30 games six times — and 40 or more twice — before being abruptly traded back to Florida last March after getting benched in the Heritage Classic. The Panthers had been in Vancouver all week, and the 35-year-old said Thursday brought a level of closure.
"It kind of is a little bit," Luongo said. "I haven't been back here since the trade so not only for myself, but I think for the fans as well it just closes the chapter and we get to move on now."
Somewhat lost in the mix of the emotion was the fact Luongo picked up the 389th victory of his career to tie Dominik Hasek for 11th on the all-time goalie wins list. He also beat the Canucks for the first time to give him at least one victory against all 30 NHL teams.
"The crowd was great. All in all, I don't think I could have asked for anything more," Luongo said. "I was hearing the Loos when I made big saves, that was nice, it brought back good memories."
Daniel Sedin opened the scoring in the first for the Canucks (23-13-3), who faded over the final two periods.
"I thought our first was pretty good, but our second we just lost everything," Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin said. "We stopped playing, our shifts were too long, we didn't come out and do proper breakouts.
"It was far from good enough."
Ryan Miller — signed as a free agent in the offseason to replace Luongo as the Canucks' No. 1 goalie — made 27 saves in the loss.
"They had a good forecheck pressure in the second period," Miller said. "We need to be able to respond to that, find a way to change it up, but they pinched hard. (We've) got to have a better response."
With the game tied 1-1 after 20 minutes, the Panthers grabbed their first lead at 7:10 of the second. Barkov scored his fourth of the season on a nice deflection off a point shot from rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad.
Florida defenseman Dmitry Kulikov caught Vancouver on a bad change and sprung a stretch pass to Huberdeau, who moved in alone on Miller and beat him high over the glove for his sixth at 16:43.
Vancouver took the lead at 3:39 of the first period when Daniel Sedin beat Luongo for his ninth of the season off a feed from his brother Henrik.
Luongo snagged a hard shot from Alexander Edler a few minutes later to keep the deficit at one before his teammates tied it at 9:33.
"We knew it was going to be emotional," Huberdeau said. "It's a big game for (Luongo). The crowd was great. It was great to see a player that the fans loved. We are happy to have him in Florida, but it was nice to see the crowd still loved him and supported him."
NOTES: Canucks forward Chris Higgins missed the game due to with an illness, so Linden Vey dressed for the second straight night after he subbed for Radim Vrbata (flu) on Tuesday. ... The Canucks will play the finale of their five-game homestand on Saturday against Calgary. ... Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis skated with his teammates on Thursday morning and said he expects to practice on Friday. He has been out with a torn groin since Nov. 20.
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