VANCOUVER, B.C.; JANUARY 01,2013-- Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo stops Chicago Blackhawks #20 Brandon Saad during first period NHL action at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Friday February 01, 2013.
Photograph by: Les Bazso, PNG
VANCOUVER — The grudge match may have fizzled, but Roberto Luongo didn’t.
Not even in the shootout, where Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp lined up like murderers’ row.
“I think I pooped myself a little there before the shootout when I saw all those guys,” Luongo said. “It was not the easiest task. But I was happy with the result.”
Luongo is happy about a lot of things right now. He’s not only playing — having started three straight games — he’s shining. As good as he’s ever been to start a season.
Is he better than ever? Maybe. Just maybe.
Luongo stoned all three of the highly skilled Chicago Blackhawks. He collided with Kane on his attempt and as the two were sprawled on the ice together, Luongo told Kane: “Not this time.”
Somehow Joel Quenneville gave Nick Leddy the nod over Marian Hossa in the sudden-death portion of the skills competition.
“He’s been good at it,” Quenneville said. “We’ve been looking for guys to break through in that area. After the last couple years, it’s been a sore spot.”
Luongo stopped Leddy and, fresh off a rare Canucks shootout practice this week, Jordan Schroeder scored, leading Vancouer to a 2-1 win.
Nice for Schroeder — but this was all about Luongo.
The stumbling Canucks would be nothing without stand-on-your-head goaltending. They mustered five scoring chances in the game and one lone goal. But they found a way to turn it into two points.
Whatever boiling blood the Canucks felt March 21, when Daniel Sedin was crushed by a Duncan Keith cheap shot, was long gone by Friday’s rematch.
Instead of a fiery, bone-crushing game about revenge, it was a tepid, conservative game where the Canucks went into their defensive shell early, after scoring first, just hoping for two points.
“We’ve been playing very well defensively with the team we have, and we’re trying to sneak a few wins in,” Daniel Sedin said.
Doesn’t sound like the recipe for long-term success.
It didn’t take long for Luongo to show everyone why he got the start against the Blackhawks.
At the 8:39 mark of the first period, Hossa burst through the middle of the ice, which was more empty than the New Orleans Superdome the night before the Super Bowl.
It’s the type of play Hossa has scored goals on dozens of times in his career. A couple of them against Luongo. But after he snapped his shot, Luongo plucked the puck out of the air with his glove hand, adding some theatrics — which he picked up from Grant Fuhr way back when.
You see a save like that early in a game, it’s usually an indication that Luongo is on. And he was.
For the third straight game.
Luongo was good, but also lucky. A Niklas Hjalmarsson bomb had him beat in the second, but rang off the post. With 1:45 left in regulation, he lost track of the puck after Brent Seabrook fired it into the crease; Luongo ended up sitting on it, just keeping it out.
Soundly outplayed for most of the game, Vancouver did score first. The Sedin line produced a goal on a marvellous feed from Zack Kassian. The play started with a 60-foot Dan Hamhuis pass, which cut through the middle of the ice to Henrik Sedin. Henrik quickly set up Kassian at the side of the net. But instead of instinctively shooting, Kassian showed some impressive patience, waiting for the coverage to flow to him. When it did, he found Alex Edler, who one-timed the feed by Corey Crawford.
The game was billed as being one about vengeance. But, let’s face it, the Canucks aren’t exactly constructed to exact revenge, even the clean, hard-hitting variety.
By the end of the first, they had registered three hits. Oh, they tried. On one shift, Max Lapierre lined up the slippery Keith three times. He whiffed every time. Manny Malhotra had Keith lined up for the Canucks’ best chance of the night to label him. But Malhotra backed off, gently gliding into the glass instead of the body.
The most contact a Canuck got on Keith was actually Henrik, who knocked him down when he was tied up with Daniel in the second period.
“He’s a beast,” Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault said of Henrik, laughing.
The Canucks’ best chance at revenge? Probably a blowout. But after the Edler goal, the Canucks did what they’ve done so much this young season. They sat back. They chipped pucks in. They didn’t manage a scoring chance in the second period.
You’ve seen the movie before. The Canucks hang on to a lead, and eventually their backs bow, and someone, in this case Kane, ties it.
Kane slid the puck by Luongo 9:42 into the third, not long after Jannik Hansen failed on a chance to get the puck out the Canucks’ zone. The Kane goal was set up by a seeing-eye Toews pass, which sliced by the top of the crease and a couple of Canucks. The pass forced Luongo to go post to post and, for the first time this season, he ended up on his belly.
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