Accidental Canuck Roberto Luongo gave team a chance to win, but Sharks bite down in playoff opener
Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo reacts as referee Francois St. Laurent indicates a goal during the third period of Game 1 of the NHL Western Conference quarter-final series between the Canucks and Sharks at Rogers Arena in Vancouver on Wednesday, May 1, 2013.
Photograph by: Rich Lam, Getty Images
VANCOUVER — It was a perfectly Vancouveresque end of one season and the logical beginning of another.
If it had happened on April Fools’ Day, about the time a normal regular season ends, no one would have batted an eye.
But for symbolism purposes, May Day would do just as well.
Mayday, the international distress signal — derived from the French “venez m’aider” or come help me — was heard clearly, in both languages, by Roberto Luongo on Wednesday morning, when the Vancouver Canucks made the final determination that their No. 1 goalie, Cory Schneider, would be unable to play Game 1 of the post-season against the San Jose Sharks.
So the gold medal-winning Canadian Olympic team ’keeper had to fill in. How would the Canucks cope with this, uh, disaster?
Well, he was the only reason they weren’t behind 3-0 or worse in the first period, and the home side even led 1-0 on an own-goal by ex-Canuck Raffi Torres (credited to Kevin Bieksa) until a puck Luongo never saw, a power-play wrist shot through a screen by red-hot Logan Couture, tied it late in the second.
In short, he “gave the boys a chance to win,” which was exactly how he hoped he might contribute. Only the boys didn’t hold up their end.
The boys were outhustled, out-skilled and largely ineffective against a very good effort by the Sharks, and lost their fifth straight home playoff game — the last one against Boston in 2011, all three against L.A. last spring and now this, a 3-1 setback that spoiled what might have been a pretty sweet moment for the Accidental Canuck.
If you’ve been following the season-long circus, you would not have been the least bit shocked by Wednesday’s chapter.
In fact, it was practically guaranteed to happen the minute Luongo found himself still Vancouver property when the trade deadline passed.
Somehow, some way, the fact that he was not supposed to be here meant he was bound to figure in this club’s fate.
What began as a minor “body injury” suffered in Game 46 of the regular season against the Chicago Blackhawks — long assumed to be a hangnail, or a thinly-disguised attempt to rest Schneider and get the accidental Canuck some late-season mop-up work, just in case — turned out to be more serious than Alain Vigneault’s club, in full playoff “omerta” mode, was letting on.
“Schneids is just not healthy enough right now,” Vigneault said after Wednesday’s morning skate. “We had an idea Tuesday and we told Louie to be ready.
“This morning, when we talked to Schneids before practice, it was a pretty easy decision.”
To the casual observer, maybe anyone outside B.C.’s Lower Mainland, no doubt this ongoing shaggy dog story seems a little over the top.
“They’re coached by the same goaltending coach, they’ve been together for a number of years, they’ve both played big games — I can tell you the debate (over which goaltender would play) is a much bigger story here in Vancouver than it is in the Sharks’ locker room,” said San Jose coach Todd McLellan.
“It’s not like Lou’s a slouch,” said Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle, who had a wide open net in which to deposit the winning goal midway through the third period, after the goalie failed to corral a wide-angle backhand pass by Joe Pavelski and the Sharks’ Tommy Wingels won a goal-mouth scrum to kick the puck loose.
It was Luongo’s only real miscue of an otherwise brilliant evening, and it ended up in the back of the net for the game-winner.
Boyle, who was Luongo’s Olympic teammate, couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about.
But some combination of the 34-year-old keeper’s career post-season ups and downs, the fact that his last two playoff games had been a pair of 4-2 losses last spring to Los Angeles, before Vigneault apparently cast the club’s goaltending future in stone by starting Schneider in Game 3 ... the interminable contract that made Luongo immovable last summer or at the trade deadline, the Canucks’ refusal to eat any portion of his annual stipend to facilitate a trade ... the fact that it was the Toronto Maple Leafs that ultimately rejected a deal, the converted touchdown Luongo surrendered behind a porous skeleton lineup in Edmonton in the regular-season finale — and, of course, Schneider’s quite evident readiness to carry the team — made the goaltending saga the gift that just kept on giving.
And now, he was back in the playoff crosshairs.
“Well, the way things have been going the last year, I didn’t rule it out, that’s for sure,” Luongo had said Wednesday morning. “Things happen and you don’t always know why, and sometimes you don’t understand them.
“I think I view a lot of things differently now. I’m better at facing adversity. Once you been through it many times, you find it easier to pick yourself back up and overcome it. That’s where I’m at right now.”
He said he was looking no further ahead than the first period of Game 1 — “It’s not a big-picture type of moment,” he said — and in that first period he was fabulous. His team played better in the second, but had little left for the third, when the Sharks pounced on their chances.
Luongo was chosen second star of a rugged, spirited, intense game, but that might have been a vote for the best story. There were quite a few Sharks — Couture, Pavelski, Joe Thornton — better than the best Canuck.
On the bright side, if you call it that, the loss means Vigneault’s decision for Game 2 is now quite unclouded. Nothing Luongo did, because of the result, precludes Schneider playing on Friday if he’s healthy.
Apparently, that’s a bigger if than anyone knew.
Four days in a row, Schneider was on the ice taking shots — including two full practices and a morning skate — but he was unable to even back up, and rookie Joe Cannata, with zero NHL game experience, was all the Canucks had in the bullpen for a playoff game. Absurd.
But then, not much about the goaltending story has made a lot of sense this season. Luongo had 24 hours’ warning. The 7-2 season finale in Edmonton was long forgotten. He was ready, and he played like it.
“This is the playoffs,” he said, “and everybody starts off at zeroes.”
Pity that darned reset button only works once.
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