Canucks’ 'All About Cory?' Actually, much to-do about Lou
Schneider may be team's MVP, but the spotlight was squarely on Luongo in wake of weekend's season-ending collapse
VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks’ No. 1 goaltender and MVP had to edge past the outskirts of a vast scrum of reporters surrounding Roberto Luongo to get to his locker Monday.
Cory Schneider understood, illogical as it was, that the story of the day wasn’t his return to practice, or whether he would be healthy enough to play Game 1 of the playoffs Wednesday against the San Jose Sharks (7:30 p.m., TSN, Team 1040), but rather how Luongo was feeling ... you know, psychologically.
Schneider hadn’t been on the ice with his teammates — other than to walk on in a suit to accept the team’s MVP award last Thursday — since a week ago when he was mysteriously hurt (the now-famous “body injury”) in a victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
He had been a rock down the stretch for a team bent on winning yet another Northwest Division title. And in the two games Luongo played at the end of the regular season, the Canucks had been outscored 10-3.
Monday ought to have been All About Cory.
But the egg the Canucks laid in the finale, a 7-2 loss Saturday in Edmonton, had ended up all over Luongo’s face, and coach Alain Vigneault had left him in to surrender the entire converted touchdown — leading, as these things always do in a town hyper-sensitized to the ever-changing situation between the pipes, to a fairly shrill criticism on the public airwaves of Coach V’s handling/mishandling of the debacle.
How could he do this to Luongo, the good soldier, when it might be the last game he ever plays for the Canucks? Could he not have pulled him after the fourth goal, the fifth? Why wouldn’t he give him a mercy hook and put rookie Joe Cannata in for the mop-up?
How upset was Luongo afterwards, rushing out of the room and onto the team bus in record time, without talking to reporters? How would he and Vigneault ever patch things up?
Or had the goalie himself run up the white flag at some point in the late third-period barrage, when the Oilers scored five times between the 13:17 mark and 16:52 to blow open a 2-2 tie? Was it perhaps not entirely the fault of the lineup Vigneault iced, laced with minor-leaguers, for a meaningless game?
“Yeah, I was pretty upset,” Luongo said Monday, of his hasty exit. “I just want to apologize for taking off on you guys. That’s not my style usually, but I had a moment there, and I just needed some time to myself.”
It wasn’t, he said, that he was upset at being left in.
“No, I was upset with myself. It’s tough to get embarrassed like that. It’s happened one too many times for me, and I was really fuming — and it was better for me to just sit on the bus than say some things I would have regretted later on,” Luongo said.
Would he have gladly taken the hook, had Vigneault offered it?
“That’s not how I play the game,” he said. “I don’t look to the bench to come out of the game. I want to play, I want to fight through things. Whether you stay in the game or come out, it’s still embarrassing. I just had to find a way to stop the bleeding there.”
Vigneault did not look amused that the issue was still simmering Monday, with the playoffs two days away and no decision yet on whether Schneider can play.
“First of all, Roberto is a true professional. He’s real strong mentally, and he’s had some nights like the last one and he’s battled back in incredible fashion,” Vigneault said.
“But yesterday I did ask him, Schneids and Rollie (Melanson, the goalie coach): “What are we supposed to do here?’ It’s a 2-2 game, six minutes left, team’s playing pretty hard in front of him, he’s playing real well. And then all of a sudden, they score a third goal and then he mishandles the puck on the fourth goal — now there’s a little over four minutes left. I’m not expecting them to score any more, and I’m sure he’s not. So I asked them: ‘What can we do here? Do we bring him to the bench with two-three minutes left?’ And both of them said they’d want to fight through it.
“I didn’t need to have the conversation (for Luongo’s sake) because I know how Louie is. It was for my own interest. I’ve been coaching a few years now. I’ve seen this happen early in games where bang-bang-bang and it’s an easy decision because there’s 50-some minutes left. I’ve rarely seen what I saw in Edmonton, where five goals go in on five shots, or six shots, with a couple minutes left.”
Asked if he had been offered the chance to say no to the start because of the likelihood of getting lit up with so many marginal players in the lineup, Luongo didn’t answer directly.
“I didn’t play many games this year, so I was actually excited to play that game,” he said. “You know, it’s a hockey game, and I thought we were playing some great hockey for most of it, unfortunately those last few minutes kind of ruined the night. But no, there is no way I would not have played that game.”
Oh, and about that other guy ...
Schneider, who’s officially day-to-day, seemed to handle the hour-long practice just fine, but he said how it feels Tuesday (whatever “it” is) will tell the tale.
“I hate to be vague and not very specific for you guys, but that’s our team policy right now. I’m just doing what I’m told,” said Schneider, who assured reporters that it wasn’t simply a ruse to allow him to rest.
“I know when I was injured, but I don’t know if the team wants me to let you know, so I’m not going to say.”
He was on the ice for half an hour with Melanson on Sunday — “Really controlled, nothing too fancy,” he said — and if he has no setbacks, would have two practices and a morning skate under his belt before Game 1.
“I’d love to play,” he said. “This is where the fun part of the year starts, and I’ve felt good about how I’ve been playing lately. So if I feel I’m healthy enough to do that, I will.”
And if not, it will be yet another slice of irony in a season liberally slathered with it: the goalie who couldn’t be traded, reluctantly kept, starting the playoffs.
“I don’t want to assume anything,” Luongo said. “You want to stay in the moment. You can’t change what happened in the past or look too far ahead. Especially in the playoffs, where every shift is critical and you don’t want to be too emotional about anything.”
Saturday night is gone. Wednesday looms. All is forgiven.
If Vigneault needs him to face down the Sharks, he said, he expects Roberto Luongo to be good.
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