With head cleared, Luongo kept his net empty
VANCOUVER, British Columbia — The questions kept coming. They came after Game 3 in Boston when Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo gave up eight goals in an 8-1 rout.
They came the next day when Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault was asked if the veteran netminder would be able to bounce back from such a defeat, particularly since the coach asked Luongo if he wanted to exit the game when the score was 5-1. Luongo opted to stay in, then later joked that had he known there were going to be three more goals against, he probably would’ve taken up Vigneault on his offer.
Then, when Luongo gave up four goals on 20 shots in Game 4, Vigneault didn’t give his goalie a choice. He pulled him in favor of former Boston College star Cory Schneider.
After the game, there were more questions for Luongo. Were the Bruins in his head? Was he fatigued? One reporter even went so far as to ask Luongo for his reaction about fans reportedly booing him back in Vancouver during the game. Luongo said, “Next question,’’ and the interview was over. But Vigneault said Luongo was his starter, without a doubt.
Last night, Luongo answered the critics, the doubters, and the nonbelievers with an outstanding 31-save performance for a 1-0 home victory to put the Canucks ahead, 3-2, in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup Final. Vancouver can hoist the Cup for the first time with a win Monday in Boston.
Luongo said he took a walk along the Stanley Park seawall in the morning to clear his head and get focused. He said he has done it before and it has made a difference.
“I don’t know if they have any seawalls in Boston, but I’m going to look for one,’’ said the goalie. “I just put my hoodie on and my headphones. I don’t even know if anybody talked to me because I can’t hear, so I just had my head down and I’m focusing on the journey, everything I need to do to be ready for the game, and that’s what gets me prepared.’’
The only goal of the game was scored by Max Lapierre at 4:35 of the third period. Kevin Bieksa fired the puck toward the net and it caromed to Lapierre on the left side of the net. Goalie Tim Thomas had come out to challenge and couldn’t recover in time.
Luongo said Thomas’s style was part of the reason the goal was scored.
“It’s not [a hard save] if you’re playing in the paint,’’ said Luongo. “It’s an easy save for me, but if you’re wandering out and [playing] aggressive like he does, that’s going to happen. He might make some saves that I don’t, but in cases like that, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we’re in a position to bury those.’’
Luongo acknowledged that there was some regrouping after the disappointing losses in Boston, but he has shown a resilience to come back strong after struggling.
“It’s not the first time it’s happened,’’ he said. “So I know what I need to do to get ready and have my ‘A’ game. So I thought we all played well and we all stepped up our level of play to take it to a new level where we needed to be to win this game. That’s what we need to do if we want to win the last one here.’’
The Canucks’ determination has been backed up by the numbers. During the regular season, the Canucks were blanked five times, and then twice more in the playoffs, in Game 5 against Chicago in the opening round and in Game 4 against the Bruins.
The team has a record of 5-2 in games after not scoring a goal, outscoring those opponents, 25-13.
“We did it all year,’’ said Lapierre. “We came back really strong after a bad game. It’s the Stanley Cup Final, nobody said it was going to be easy. We just had to regroup and bounce back. We were patient with the game plan and we had our break at the end.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.