VANCOUVER - Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo is expected to start Saturday when Vancouver hosts the Calgary Flames.
Coach Alain Vigneault confirmed Luongo will start, despite the goaltender experiencing stiffness in his neck Friday morning that led to backup Cory Schneider getting the start versus Dallas.
"I was able to loosen it up and see how it felt (Saturday) morning," said Luongo after his club's optional morning skate. "I feel fine. I was able to track pucks with my head, and I didn't have any problems."
The Canucks brought minor-league goaltender Eddie Lack to Rogers Arena just in case Luongo could not go. Lack's Chicago Wolves squad had just played two games in nearby Abbotsford, B.C., but Vigneault sent him home to the Windy City after learning an emergency recall was not necessary.
"We just kept him on hold for half and hour and then he went back," said Vigneault.
Luongo was scheduled to start Friday against Dallas, but he left the pre-game warmup early and was replaced by Schneider in the game, which the Canucks won 5-2. The Canucks No. 1 netminder experienced stiffness in his neck Friday morning, but did not loosen up sufficiently after the morning skate, afternoon treatment or the warmup.
Although Luongo has played through different ailments before, he felt this one was severe enough to impact his game.
"It was a tough call," said Luongo. "If this was a few years ago, I might have been a little bit more stubborn and tried to play."
While no update was provided on defenceman Kevin Bieksa, who missed two previous games because of what Vigneault has described as maintenance days, winger Andrew Ebbett was pencilled in for his first game since suffering a broken collarbone in Boston in early January.
"Our plan was to give him a couple of games here before the end of the (regular) season, so tonight is one of those games," said Vigneault.
Vigneault left it up to Ebbett to tell him when he was ready. The winger was cleared for contact within the past 10 days. Doctors gave him the okay Wednesday and then he told Vigneault he was ready to go.
Ebbett's return gave the Canucks a healthy extra forward for the first time since high-scoring winger Daniel Sedin was sidelined with a concussion March 21 in Chicago. Vigneault said he did not have an update on Sedin.
Keith Ballard, recuperating from a concussion and neck injury that has sidelined him since early February took part in the optional skate. But the defenceman still has not been cleared for contact.
“Every day has been good, I’ve been progressing," said Ballard. "I feel good on the ice just skating up and down. I had a lot of hard skates, starting when the team was on the road, but that’s just skating, doing footwork, edgework. You are getting a lot of conditioning that way, but game situations are different."
The Canucks close out their regular season with games Thursday in Calgary and Saturday at home against Edmonton in the week.