VANCOUVER — As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be. Swirled without end. Amen.
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the same eddying vortex of absurdity, the same occasionally rollicking soap opera that left you flabbergasted when it lasted through the summer of 2012, bemused when it persisted past the lockout, and resigned when it went unsolved at the trade deadline has finally reached its next logical step.
Not its last step, mind you -- we would never go that far -- but its next step: Cory Schneider ostensibly hurt, Roberto Luongo back between the Vancouver Canucks’ pipes, two games left before the real shooting starts.
That’s right. Having proved conclusively that he is the goaltender of the present and the future, Schneider has naturally been scratched for Thursday night’s last semi-meaningful game of the regular season, at home to Anaheim, with what is described by head coach Alain Vigneault as “a body injury.”
How it happened, no one is saying. But reading between the lines, we take it to mean that he has an injury to his body, somewhere between the toenails and the tips of his red buzz-cut.
Those concerned that his mind would be first to go can relax.
Body. Definitely. Unless Vigneault isn’t telling the truth, which, considering the Canucks are basically in lockdown/say nothing/playoff mode, isn’t out of the question.
“If he was healthy he’d be practising. He’s got an injury that, at this time, we’re not willing to disclose, and that’s what it is,” said Vigneault. “I can’t predict the future and I’m not going to try to. I can tell you Louie’s playing tomorrow.”
He refused to crack under cross-examination and said, after the third or fourth attempt at an end-around: “Louie’s playing tomorrow. Do you want me to go into my Claude Noel imitation with these questions? Is that the best you got?”
He meant the mini-rant into which the usually affable Winnipeg Jets head coach launched after a costly loss in Washington on Tuesday.
So all right, let’s give Vigneault the benefit of the doubt.
The injury to Schneider’s body is serious enough to cause the team to put in an emergency call to its only other signed/available goaltender, Chicago Wolves farmhand Joe Cannata, whom the team’s GPS located somewhere in the Boston area and who will now make the coast-to-coast trek to The Show.
Or else they were planning to call Cannata up anyway, and Schneider just needed to put his feet up for one night.
Either way, Schneider’s absence will force the NHL’s most expensive ballcap model, Luongo, to have the barnacles scraped off his undercarriage and don that vaguely familiar mask in the Canucks’ final regular-season home game -- an occasion that always had the potential to be a sort of farewell-Bobby-Lu sendoff, just in case he was going to remain huddled up against the stick-rack in the playoffs.
But now, it’s official.
He’s in. Schneider’s out. And the only people who know for how long aren’t telling.
“Obviously, you never want to see a guy get injured,” Luongo told a sizable throng on Wednesday. “That being said, I don’t think it’s anything too serious and hopefully he’ll be back soon -- and in the meantime, it’s going to be my job to play the way he’s been playing.”
How Schneider has been playing in his last 15 starts is like this: four shutouts, one or fewer goals-against nine times, and a .942 save percentage.
So it’s a tall order, but Luongo has faced tougher challenges.
“Things happen,” he said, “and not only in my time here, but you know, in my prior experiences at the world championships. Sean Burke went down with an injury in the (2003) semifinal game (Luongo also played the gold medal game that year, a 3-2 overtime Canada win against Sweden).
“At the (Vancouver) Olympics it wasn’t an injury, but things changed.”
Luongo replaced Martin Brodeur, and the rest is history.
This season, however, has been about one wombat short of a zoo.
Ironically, the inability of Mike Gillis to trade Luongo -- or Gillis’s refusal to give him away for the lowball offers he was receiving -- is looking like the best thing that never happened.
Among the conspiracy theories floated Wednesday was that Schneider isn’t even really hurt, but that being able to trot out Luongo to the rescue once more makes the Canucks look prescient in holding onto him.
Revisionist history, to be sure. At best, it’s the upside of Plan B.
“Well, everything happens for a reason,” said Luongo, admitting this has been a season like no other.
“It’s pretty amazing, isn’t it? That being said, I think we’ve still got a little ways to go before it’s over. So we’re going to enjoy it for the time being, and we’ll see where it leads us.”
For his teammates, having Luongo on hand means they don’t have to miss a beat.
“We’re confident in him. He knows what this team is about,” said captain Henrik Sedin.
Not only does it mean they have an instant replacement for Thursday, he said, but “I think if we want to go on a long playoff run, as well, there’s going to be games where things happen, and injuries are going to come.”
Vigneault no doubt could mount a pretty good argument that what the Canucks might have gained from a Luongo trade would outweigh the occasional value of being able to throw a $5.33-million bandaid at a momentary problem.
But that’s water under the bridge.
For Canuck fans, who have been duly impressed by Luongo’s stiff upper lip and self-deprecating humour throughout what must have been a difficult season for him, it will be at least one full-on chance to celebrate his contribution to the franchise.
“I just can’t see it that way. We play next week at home. For me, it’s just a chance to play, and provide the boys here a chance to win,” Luongo said.
“If (the fans) want to see it that way, so be it, but we still have two games left to close out the year, and obviously the playoffs, which is the most important thing, is around the corner and we want to make sure that as a team, myself included, we’re ready to get that going.”
And if, somehow, this turned into more than a take-a-bow farewell appearance? If Schneider couldn’t start the playoffs?
“I’m not going to speculate at this point,” Luongo said.
“Like I said after the deadline, I just wanted everyone to know I was here 100% committed to this team, and you know, I wanna make a run with these guys and hopefully go all the way.”
With or without the ball cap.
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