SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) Dan Ellis has not logged a single minute in the NHL all season. And he might now be the key to the Florida Panthers' postseason hopes.
The Panthers will be without goaltenders Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya for at least one game and possibly longer after both got hurt against Toronto on Tuesday night, setting off a chain-reaction of unplanned and downright bizarre events in the Florida dressing room.
So Wednesday, practice was delayed a few minutes so new goalies could get there. Ellis was called up from San Antonio of the AHL, and Sam Brittain was summoned from the team's ECHL affiliate in Cincinnati - making him the third player to go from that level right to the NHL, according to STATS.
''Like you saw last night,'' Brittain said Wednesday, ''you never know what can happen.''
Ellis will start Thursday night against the Dallas Stars, with Florida going into that game two points behind Boston in the race for the No. 8 spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Luongo started Tuesday's game, getting hurt late in the first period but staying in the game. Montoya took his spot when the team returned to the ice for the second period, and that's when things started getting wacky for the Panthers.
- Luongo, who appeared to take a puck off the right side of his mask and then was trying to stretch out his shoulder, got a CT scan and was seen in street clothes. Clearly, he thought his night on the ice was over.
- Montoya wound up injuring a groin, then tried to play through it after a delay.
- Realizing it needed an emergency goalie, the team scrambled to sign goaltender coach Robb Tallas to a 24-hour tryout contract and considered giving him his first NHL action in 14 years.
- Forward Derek MacKenzie was sent to the dressing room to put goalie gear on, just in case. So what was his most significant previous netminding experience? ''I fooled around a little bit during the lockout back home in Sudbury (Ontario) with a junior team there,'' MacKenzie said.
- Panthers general manager Dale Tallon actually thought about playing without a goalie, for basically an entire period, during a game in a playoff race.
- Luongo got cleared by the medical staff, put his uniform back on and surprisingly returned to the game. He wound up stopping all 19 shots he faced Tuesday night, and the Panthers still lost.
''Obviously, it was a bizarre game,'' Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said.
The next game will have some bizarre elements as well. Ellis started his career in Dallas, wound up playing with four other franchises, re-signed with the Stars and then got traded to Florida on March 5, 2014 - meaning Thursday's game against his old club will come on the one-year anniversary of that move.
Ellis hasn't seen any time with the Panthers this year. His last two outings last season were disasters, when he allowed a combined 11 goals on 70 shots.
''Dan Ellis is an NHL goalie,'' Gallant said. ''We know that. Things didn't go great for him a couple years ago, but hey, he's an NHL goalie. He's played a lot of games in the league and he's won games. We're confident in Dan. He's a good guy, a good person and he gives us a chance to win.''
For his part, Ellis knows why he's in Florida.
''It's not so much you're looking to regain a job,'' Ellis said. ''You're just looking to help. ... Someone goes down, you want to fill in and give the team a chance to win.''
Gallant said the indication on Luongo's injury is that it's not as serious as the team originally feared. The Panthers could also get defenseman Willie Mitchell back from about a monthlong injury stint on Thursday, which would figure to help whomever is in the Florida net.
Brittain's ECHL team was in the midst of a Florida swing anyway, with games in Orlando and Fort Myers. He needed only to hop on a 45-minute flight to arrive for practice Thursday, a far cry from the 16-hour bus ride his Cincinnati club needed to get to Florida days ago.
''Anything to get here,'' Brittain said.