Luongo likely to start Thursday

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo is expected to start Thursday, according to ESPN.com's Pierre LeBrun, in his first game action since he suffered a groin injury almost two months ago.

Luongo practiced Wednesday afternoon, and barring any setbacks, will be in net Thursday night against the visiting Phoenix Coyotes.

With Luongo set to return, the Canucks placed Curtis Sanford on waivers Wednesday.

If no other NHL team claims Sanford, the 29-year-old will be assigned to the Manitoba Moose in the American Hockey League.

"It was a very challenging decision for us," coach Alain Vigneault said. "Curtis is not only really respected and liked by his teammates, but the whole coaching staff and management."

Sanford lost the job he held the past two seasons to Jason LaBarbera, who was acquired in a trade with Los Angeles after Sanford tweaked his groin in a game-day skate Dec. 30.

LaBarbera went 2-1-2 in his first five games with Vancouver before being pulled after giving up two goals on six shots just 3:29 into Tuesday night's game against New Jersey.

Sanford replaced him, but ended up on the hook for a 5-3 loss, falling to 7-8-0 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .906 save percentage.

LaBarbera has a .907 save percentage and 3.07 GAA since joining the Canucks.

Luongo returns to a team that is 9-12-3 since he hurt his groin, including five straight losses on home ice. The two-time Vezina Trophy finalist was forced to shut down a mid-December comeback attempt because of lingering pain, but said this week he's back to 100 percent.

"I have no issues and I felt pretty good in practice as far as timing," he said. "I m ready to go."

Luongo is 11-5-2 and has a 2.17 GAA and .928 save percentage. Despite missing more than seven weeks, he is tied for second with five shutouts, just one behind Columbus rookie Steve Mason for the NHL lead.

Those numbers earned Luongo a spot in the All-Star game at the end of the month. After missing last year's game to be with his wife in Florida during a difficult pregnancy, Luongo said he'd like to play in this year's game in his hometown of Montreal as long as he played for the Canucks first.

"It would be nice because it's in my hometown," Luongo said earlier in the week. "But my main priority is the Vancouver Canucks and making sure that I give my full attention to this team and making sure when I start playing, I'm at 100 percent."

The Canucks are 9-12-3 since Luongo was hurt, and have fallen to sixth in the Western Conference, seven points behind Calgary in the Northwest Division.

Information from ESPN's Pierre LeBrun and The Associated Press was used in this report.