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Luongo returns to Canucks, centre Brendan Morrison out 12 weeks after surgery

VANCOUVER - The Vancouver Canucks faced the good, the bad and the ugly Monday.

The good news for the NHL team was goaltender Roberto Luongo said he will be ready to play against the New Jersey Devils Tuesday after missing the last four games with a rib injury.

The bad was centre Brendan Morrison saying he'll miss at least 12 weeks after undergoing surgery on his right wrist.

The ugly was Vancouver's 0-4 record in shootouts, which has cost the team four points in the tight Western Conference where only five points separates second place from eighth.

Luongo pronounced himself "good to go" after practising with the team.

"I didn't have any issues when I'm on the ice so that's the main thing," he said. "I was able to get through the practise with no discomfort or no pain. It's really feeing good."

Luongo, who has a 13-10-3 record and 2.12 goals-against average, first suffered the rib injury when hit by a shot in a loss against the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 2. He played two more games after that but pulled himself from the lineup following the warmup for a Dec. 10 game against the Los Angeles Kings.

The Canucks were 1-2-1 in the four games Luongo missed. Defenceman Willie Mitchell said it's good to have the team's all-star goaltender back.

"Your best player gives you confidence," said Mitchell. "Sometimes we can be a team that starts off slow and he can buy time for us to find our legs.

"At times we are not the highest goal-scoring team in the league. When you're not generating a lot of offence ... having Roberto back there, you know he's going to hold the fort until we score that timely goal to win the game."

The match will also pit two of the game's best goaltenders against each other in Luongo and New Jersey's Martin Brodeur.

"I think he's one of the best goalies of all time," said Luongo. "He doesn't have the same style as we are accustom to seeing. The way he reads the play really helps him out to make saves."

Morrison needed surgery to repair a wrist he first injured during the exhibition season. Despite having eight goals and 12 assists in 30 games, the wrist steadily became worse.

The Pitt Meadows, B.C., native knew something had to be done after he was on the ice for three goals in Vancouver's 4-2 loss to the Kings last week.

"It just got to the point where I felt I was becoming a liability on the ice, especially in our zone," he said. "I couldn't push guys, I couldn't lean on guys, I couldn't engage in any type of battle.

"I knew then it was time to get something done."

Morrison had the surgery Thursday night. He showed up to the rink Monday in a cast that extended from his fingers, past his elbow, to his upper arm. The cast was decorated with drawings from his three children.

He expects to wear the cast for at last six weeks, then have several more weeks of rehab, but hopes to return before the playoffs.

"Now it's just a matter of being patient," said Morrison, who is in the final season of a contract that pays him US$3.2 million a year. "It's significant time."

Morrison saw his streak of 542 consecutive games end but said that was never a factor in putting off the surgery.

"The ironman streak had nothing to do with it," he said. "If we had determined right in training camp I needed surgery, then it wouldn't have been an issue. I would have had it done."

The Canucks wrapped up a 14-day string where they played seven of eight games on the road with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Edmonton Oilers Saturday night. It was the fourth time this season Vancouver lost in a shootout and the third to the Oilers.

Vancouver is ranked 29 out of 30 NHL teams in shootouts. They are 2-0 in overtime games.

The Canucks are currently fifth in the Western Conference with a 17-12-4 record and 38 points, so head coach Alain Vigneault isn't ready to push the panic button on shootouts.

"We have lost four points and it is an issue," he said. "In all those games we had an opportunity to win at one point in the shootout.

"We were close. For some reason we were on the wrong side. I think our group, we can manage a decent record. I think it's going to improve."

Canuck captain Markus Naslund missed Monday's practise with the flu but is expected to play against the Devils.

Brad Isbister, who strained a hamstring last week, isn't expected to return until the weekend at the earliest.


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