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Luongo has paid off when stakes are high

Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said playing on the road “doesn’t make a difference for me.’’ Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo said playing on the road “doesn’t make a difference for me.’’ (Yoon S. Byun/Globe Staff)
By John Powers
Globe Staff / June 13, 2011

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All right, so Lord Stanley’s oversized silver fruit bowl will be backstage at TD Garden tonight and the good people of Vancouver have been waiting 96 years to get it back. It isn’t like Roberto Luongo hasn’t felt a million-megawatt spotlight on him before. Last year, he was the masked man that the entire country was counting on to hold off the Yanks in overtime in the Olympic final in his home rink and win the only gold medal that Canadians really cared about.

And the Canucks goaltender already has been through a near-death experience this postseason, having been pulled twice and benched once in the opening series against Chicago that went down to overtime of the seventh game after Vancouver had been up, three games to none (sound familiar?). So the prospect of returning to the same building where he gave up a dozen goals in two outings doesn’t daunt him.

“I think all year long I’ve been comfortable on the road and at home, so that doesn’t make a difference for me,’’ said Luongo, who backstopped three playoff victories at Nashville and one at San Jose before his twin shellings here. “I don’t want to start making excuses for what happened here in the first two games. Obviously, I think maybe they got the first goal, a couple of lucky bounces, whatever it was. And as a team we got away from the game plan, myself included.’’

Back in his own place, the man his teammates call Bobby Lou has been all but flawless, conceding the Bruins only two goals in three games and producing Friday’s 1-0 shutout that put the Canucks in position to close things out here tonight.

“I think Roberto and the rest of our group [tonight] are going to try and put their best game on the ice,’’ said coach Alain Vigneault. “We are focused on the one-game-at-a-time mentality since training camp. [Tonight’s] game won’t be different.’’

Luongo’s goals-against sequence in the Final — 0, 2, 8, 4, 0 — matches the zip code for Newport, R.I., where another famous Cup was won and lost. The unusual juxtaposition of numbers may have driven Vancouver fans daffy, but it’s no different from Luongo’s line against the Blackhawks (0, 3, 2, 6, 4, 1, 1), which requires a bit of explanation.

The 6 and 4 were incomplete games, with Luongo pulled each time for Cory Schneider, who started Game 6 but was injured trying to stop Michael Frolik’s penalty shot and was replaced by Luongo, who gave up the winner in overtime. Then Luongo came back to hold Chicago to a singleton as the Canucks won the finale in overtime to dethrone the Cup-holders.

It helps that Luongo has the memory of a hamster when it comes to his line of work, particularly in a playoff run that began April 13 and has had the Canucks playing in four quadrants of the compass. “I think it’s been more challenging mentally than physically, and I didn’t expect that as much,’’ said Luongo, who’ll play in his 24th game of this postseason tonight. “You know, I think you learn a lot about yourself throughout the process and what it takes to win.’’

The Olympics may have been for global stakes with a one-night payout but only seven games were involved, a couple of them against Norway and Switzerland.

“The Olympics is a very short tournament,’’ Luongo said. “This is a two-month grind, probably one of the hardest things we’ve ever had to do as a team. In the end, if you come out on top, it’s the most rewarding thing that you can probably do as an athlete.’’

Luongo’s airtight work in Game 5 gave his teammates a priceless two chances to carry off the Cup and gave him, at least for one night, the privilege of critiquing rival Tim Thomas’s style, which provoked outraged guffaws from Bruins fans who watched Luongo concede eight and four goals in successive appearances on Causeway Street.

“Listen, I know we’re in the Stanley Cup Final and everything is under the microscope and going to get blown out of proportion,’’ Luongo said. “Obviously, my whole comment I don’t think was a negative comment if you take the whole comment. But at the end of the day, I’m one win away from winning a Stanley Cup and that’s all I really care about now. All the other stuff is noise to me and doesn’t really affect what’s going to take place for me [tonight]. To be honest with you, I don’t really care.’’

If Luongo can submit his third shutout of the series tonight, he’ll become an immortal in British Columbia. He might even win the Conn Smythe Trophy as most valuable player of the postseason. In any case, he and his comrades know they’ll get a second chance on the same sheet that Luongo helped turn into gold a year ago February.

“[Tonight] is all about having fun, making sure you enjoy the moment,’’ he said. “Come ready to play hard and lay it all on the line and see what happens.’’

John Powers can be reached at jpowers@globe.com.

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