Roberto Luongo wasn't in a particularly nostalgic mood before his last start in Vancouver, Vol. XXVI, and he wasn't any more reflective following it.
“For me it didn't feel like the last game,” Luongo said shortly after the Canucks dropped a 3-1 decision to the Anaheim Ducks in their last home game of the season. “It's tough to think that way when there are games ahead.”
And you can understand that. Luongo has another start Saturday night in Edmonton. Given the way this season has gone, it's also likely Cory Schneider's injury will turn into an incurable foot fungus and Luongo will be back in his familiar spot, starting Game 1 in the playoffs, same as it ever was.
Still, there was also something in the air on Thursday night which seemed to call for an accounting of Luongo's career in Vancouver; something which, despite his protests, marked this as a deeply meaningful game for the player and team.
There are any number of ways to measure Luongo's impact on the Canucks. The most meaningful? His first five years, he made them relevant again. As far as legacies go, that's not a bad one to leave behind and even if Luongo didn't want to talk about it, his teammates were more than happy to speak on his behalf.
“He was our team,” Daniel Sedin said of Luongo's arrival in Vancouver. “That's the way we looked at it. He came in and took over.”
“He made us an elite team in the league,” said Kevin Bieksa. “He gave us the confidence; that stability.”
And now, just like that, it could be over. Unless, of course it isn't. But no matter what happens next – and has everyone ruled out the possibility the Canucks trade Cory Schneider:? - Luongo will be remembered in this province for a long, long time.
“It felt like a regular game,” he said after he stopped 27 of 29 Ducks' shots but whiffed on Brad Staubitz' muffin for the game-winner. “Obviously I'm disappointed in the result. As a goalie, you make one mistake and you feel like it ruins everything. It's unfortunate that was the deciding goal.”
And unfortunate it marred what might have been a sweet farewell for a goalie who's led a thousand lives in Vancouver and will leave as one of the greatest, and one of the most polarizing figures, in franchise history.
It's hard, after all, to be neutral about Luongo's Canucks' career. At times – like the '06-07 season when he put this team on his back and carried them into the playoffs – he was the prince of the city. At others – like the playoff losses to Chicago and the games in Boston during the 2011 final – he was the embodiment of every Canucks' fan's frustration.
I mean, Pierre Trudeau's career as Prime Minister wasn't as eventful as Luongo's career with the Canucks. But, somewhere in all that drama and intrigue – most of which wasn't his doing – a larger appreciation of what he's meant here has been lost.
Let's try to rectify that.
Look around the Canucks' dressing room and you're struck by the number of players who've matured into frontline NHLers during Luongo's time here. Alex Burrows was just trying to survive in the NHL when Luongo arrived. Bieksa had his breakout season in Luongo's first year. Ryan Kesler had 16 points that season. Two years later he had 26 goals and 59 points.
The Sedins, meanwhile, had taken a big step coming out of the lockout but they also made a significant jump in Luongo's first season here. It could be that all of those players would have found their way eventually.
But Luongo also made it easier for them When he arrived, he immediately became the focal point of the franchise; the lightning rod in both good times and bad. That kind of burden has crushed more than one player but Luongo carried it is as well as any player of his generation.
“He was the guy and that took a lot of pressure of everybody else,” said Bieksa.
And that's the way Luongo should be remembered. He was the guy when the Canucks didn't have anyone else. He stepped in and, overnight, made them relevant.
Did the story have a perfect ending? No. Does it ever? Not very often. But when you stop thinking about what Luongo didn't do here – win the Stanley Cup – and start thinking about what he did – just about everything else – a different picture emerges.
He made a big difference. That's no small thing.
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