Focused Luongo puts Canucks on the brink
VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Maybe an hour after one of the biggest losses of his life, Roberto Luongo(notes) traded text messages with his brother Leo. He had been yanked from a 4-0 stinker in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final. He had allowed 12 goals over two games, the Vancouver Canucks had blown a 2-0 series lead to the Boston Bruins, and all the old questions, criticisms and fears were coming back.
His brother had brought them back. Leo reminded Roberto of the blackest marks on his record – the back-to-back playoff series losses to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2009 and 2010, the back-to-back nightmares against the 'Hawks in the first round this year. Roberto had allowed 10 goals over two games in April, too. He had been pulled then, too. He had even been benched.
All of that, Leo told Roberto in a text message, was "almost destiny." All of that, he told him, happened for a reason. Because he had gotten through it, hadn't he? He had come back and beaten the Blackhawks in Game 7, right? And having survived that, wasn't he even stronger for it, strong enough to handle this?
"It was kind of the exact same thing as Chicago two years in a row and this year," Leo said. "It's kind of almost prepared him for this exact moment, to have a great bounce-back game when he needed to have it."
Roberto Luongo bounced back with one of the biggest victories in his life Friday night – a 1-0 shutout in Game 5 of the Cup final. With fellow Vezina Trophy finalist Tim Thomas(notes) looking as unbeatable as ever at the other end of the rink, Luongo matched him save for save until, finally, 4:35 into the third period, Max Lapierre scored the Canucks' first meaningful goal in three games. Thirty-one saves and now the Canucks are only one win away from their first championship in franchise history.
"He's one of the best goalies that's ever played this game," Canucks winger Alex Burrows said. "We have so much confidence in this locker room in him. He's been our guy throughout these playoffs. He's been really strong, making big saves. Throughout the year, he's posted some unreal numbers. The way he competes, the way he prepares, we knew he was going to be alright tonight."
Burrows knew Luongo was locked in around lunch time. After the Canucks' pregame meal, Luongo told him he was going for a walk along the seawall in the heart of Vancouver – near the convention center and hotels and office buildings downtown, where throngs of tourists, workers and hockey fans would be taking in the postcard views of the harbor and mountains.
"I said, 'You go. You have fun,' " Burrows said.
This is not something a player would normally do. This is not something Canucks captain Henrik Sedin(notes) would do – "not a chance," Sedin said. But with Luongo, Burrows said, "nothing was going to faze him." Luongo said he pulled up his hoodie and turned up his music so he could "just focus on the journey" – as he had before his bounce-back Game 7 victory over the 'Hawks in the first round.
"Sometimes I need to clear my head and put things in perspective," Luongo said. "Usually people don't bother me. I don't know if they're talking or not, because I have my headphones on and I can't hear anything."
Luongo went through his normal pregame routine, studying the shooters he was about to face, but he was also talking baseball with his buddy Burrows. They watched some of the Toronto Blue Jays game. "He seemed cool and relaxed," Burrows said. "For a game of this magnitude, I don't think you saw that much of a difference."
Brother Leo was watching closely from his seat in the lower bowl of Rogers Arena. He not only knows Roberto well, he knows goaltending. He's the goalie coach for the Acadie-Bathurst Titan of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Pregame? Roberto looked good. The first few shots? Roberto looked comfortable.
Good. This is how Roberto had looked when the Canucks took a 2-0 series lead. This is how Roberto had looked when he had talked to him then and told him: "It was beautiful to watch you. You look like you're having so much fun out there."
"I think the games in Boston, the whole team didn't play as a team," Leo said. "A couple goals maybe he would like to have back, and he got a few unlucky bounces as well, and I think he didn't enjoy it anymore. He didn't enjoy it like he used to the first two games. I think he started doing that tonight, and you could see right off the hop that he looked sharp and he was enjoying himself again."
Luongo got a little lucky when a Chris Kelly(notes) shot rang off the crossbar, but that was the only time he was beaten all night. As the Canucks killed three penalties in the first, he stopped a deflection by Patrice Bergeron(notes) and then stoned Bergeron on the rebound. He kept making saves as the Canucks killed another penalty in the second and the frustration mounted. He couldn't afford a mistake, not on night like this, when teammate Tanner Glass(notes) fanned on a shot low in the left circle with an empty net as a target late in the second period.
"LOU GOTTA BELIEVE," one fan's sign said.
Then Lapierre broke through for the Canucks, and Luongo made a sharp left-pad save late in the third on a point shot by Johnny Boychuk(notes), and it was over. Shutout. Win. Bedlam in the arena and on the streets outside, where thousands of fans gathered to watch the game together on a giant screen.
"Obviously he's been taking some heat lately, but he's used to that," Henrik Sedin said. "He's dealing with it the right way. We all went out there today and had fun, and he had fun, too. I think you could see that."
After the game, Roberto put his arm around Leo as he did an interview for CBC's "Hockey Night in Canada" outside the dressing room. They looked like brothers. Leo had the same face, the same beard. He was wearing a Canucks T-shirt with "Luongo No. 1" on the back. He was living this moment right along with Roberto. He always has.
"He had Game 7 against Chicago that if he had lost, who knows what would have happened with his career?" Leo said. "At the Olympics [last year with Team Canada], if he had lost in the final, crumbled, who knows what would have happened to his career? So he's always been put in really, really tough situations, and regardless of what people say, in the end, he's always come out on top, and he's one game away now from coming out on top for the ultimate goal."
What would that mean?
"I think it would mean the world," Leo said. "He's dreamed about it his whole career. We've talked about it many times. Myself and my younger brother [Fabio], we kind of live vicariously through him, and we've kind of followed every single game for his entire career, even going back to junior. So we feel for him, and we want him to win so bad. We'd give anything for him to win, and we're hoping for him, for all the work he's put in, to come out on top."
One more win. Game 6 is Monday night at TD Garden. If you're walking around downtown, watch out for a hooded guy with headphones, focusing on the journey.
"I don't know if they have any seawalls in Boston," Roberto said, "but I'm going to look for that."
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