BOSTON — Roberto Luongo skated to the Vancouver Canucks bench at 3:39 of the third period on Wednesday night, pulled after surrendering a fourth goal to the Boston Bruins.
The Boston fans mocked him upon his exit. Across the continent, the Canucks fans watching Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena in Vancouver cheered his departure loudly, according to CBC Sports.
As unlikely as it seemed based on his play in the previous rounds, and as cliché as it's become for the Vancouver Canucks in the postseason, Roberto Luongo is a point of concern as the Stanley Cup Final goes to a best-of-three series.
Which is exactly what the Boston Bruins hoped he'd become.
Ever since he vanquished the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 7 of the Western Conference quarterfinal, Roberto Luongo has been a supporting character in the Vancouver Canucks' Cup run; playing competent and consistent hockey, giving up more than two goals in a game just three times in the 13 playoff games after Game 7 vs. Chicago and through Game 2 of the Final.
But in Game 3 against Boston, Aaron Rome put Nathan Horton on a stretcher and poked the sleeping bear. The Boston Bruins have outscored Vancouver 12-1 since that moment, and Luongo's been on the hook for all 12 goals — nearly getting the hook in Game 3 and sent to the bench in Game 4.
The fans in Boston chanted his name in ridicule. The fans in Vancouver celebrated his exit.
Here's Luongo after the Game 4 loss:
The problem for Luongo is that his teammates are doing a better job shielding him from criticism than from Boston Bruins shots.
Said winger Max Lapierre on Luongo: "Everybody's gotta do a better job. Lou's there for us all series. He's doing a good job, a huge job for us. But right now we can't look at those two games."
Goalie Cory Schneider, who replaced Luongo in the third period and famously started ahead of him in Game 6 against Chicago, was asked if he expected to start the next game.
"I'm ready for anything, but I'm not expecting one way or another. I'm sure AV will let us know. As far as I'm concerned, three lucky goals off our sticks, off our bodies and I'm not sure what Lou could have done differently on most of them, so I don't really see him at fault and that he deserves to play next game," said Schneider.
There are different factors behind Luongo's struggles in Games 3 and 4; the major one being that the blue line that deftly protected him in earlier rounds has seen some manpower losses.
Dan Hamhuis, an absolutely rock with Kevin Bieska for most of the playoffs, has missed three games with an undisclosed injury. Aaron Rome was a defenseman who averaged just over 13 minutes per game, but he was certainly a better option that Keith Ballard, who was borderline terrible in Game 4.
No Hamhuis, no Rome, and the Canucks and Luongo surrender 12 goals. This is not a coincidence.
Bieksa said the blue line is struggling, but so are the Canucks as a unit.
"I have to watch some film, but it seems like our gap's a little bit loose, which is one of the reasons we're not able to turn those pucks over. Basically it comes down to working like a five-man unit, and we're not doing that right now," he said.
"You don't pull a goalie all the time because it's his fault. Sometimes you do it just to give him a rest or to shake up the team. It's definitely not Roberto's fault. It's a team loss."
The other problem for Luongo is that his team's offense has been unable to maintain pressure on the Bruins defense and convert chances.
We're talking about you, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and Alex Burrows.
"They spent a lot of time in the other team's end tonight with no results to show at the end," said coach Alain Vigneault. "But it's not from lack of effort, not from lack of playing the right way. They did a good job. You got to give that team credit. You know, they're playing a smart game. Right now they've been able to shut us down offensively here for the last two games."
But this is also on Luongo, too.
There's a hesitancy to criticize him. Because it's been done so often. Because it seems too obvious. But here's the thing: The Boston Bruins have a goaltender that has given up one goal or less in three of four games, and has been so dominant that there's talk he could win the Conn Smythe in a losing effort.
Meanwhile, as Tim Thomas stonewalls the Canucks, Luongo has given up 14 goals in four games and fumbled away any chance at the Conn Smythe.
By any measure, Thomas has been the backbone for this Bruins team, making big saves that are overlooked in blowout losses. Luongo's greatest failing is an inability to stop the bleeding.
Bieska said the Canucks have lost their composure in the face of adversity.
"Just a couple of costly mistakes, and it seemed like it snowballed after that," said Bieska. "It happened in Game 3, and it seemed like it happened again tonight. We have to keep our composure when one goes in and not make it two or three."
For Luongo, one in the first became two in the second, which became three just 2:18 later. After No. 4, he was riding the bench.
Luongo didn't want to hear about the Canucks fans who cheered his exit from Game 4, even if Daniel Sedin said "I don't think he worries about those things."
Maybe it motivates him. Maybe it doesn't. Manny Malhotra said all that matters is the confidence level of Luongo's teammates in his performance.
"Obviously, we're the last show in town right now. Everyone is watching. It's going to be so many opinions. But as a team, since the beginning the season, we've said that the harshest criticisms and the only ones that matter are the ones that are going to come from this room," he said.
"People are going to say whatever they want about us, but what matters is what's said in this room."
And what Luongo does in Game 5 to help return this series to the Canucks after they've fumbled it away.