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Luongo Keeps Division Hopes Alive

Posted By Mark Gage On Apr 8 2009 @ 3:14 pm In Vancouver Canucks | 10 Comments

“Vintage Panther game,” chuckled the captain, referring to his Florida days when he would routinely face 40 shots. “If I can make those saves early, I can get in a comfort zone. You feel it right away.

We’ve worked extremely hard to get where we are. But we’ve got to make sure we tidy up so that once Game 82 is done, we’re ready to go for Game 1 [of the playoffs].”  

“Our game is nowhere near where it should be,” Canuck forward Ryan Kesler agreed.

“We need to tighten up all over the ice. You never like to criticize a win, but if Louie didn’t play the way he did, we might have lost 8-0 or 9-0. It wasn’t a very good effort. There’s lots we have to tighten up before the playoffs or we’re going to be four [games] and out.”

Veteran Ryan Johnson said: “It’s a win, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like jubilation in the room. Louie played unbelievable and the penalty killing came up big. Besides that, there wasn’t much to feel good about.”

Well, that about sums it up … the Flames were clearly the better team on the night, and if not for Luongo's out-of-this-universe play, the Canucks would be looking to maintain 5th place instead of still having a chance at claiming the North West Division title and the 3rd seeding and home-ice that comes with it.

After 3 sub-par performances for the Captain that saw his team give up 14 goals in losses to Anaheim, Edmonton and Colorado, the Canucks' best player proved his mettle with perhaps his best single game since succumbing to the Ducks 2-1 two years ago in the playoffs when he and his mates were eliminated by the eventual Stanley Cup Champions.

I've said it before, and as much as I hate to repeat myself, the man has an immense amount of pride and no one works harder to be the best he can be and wants to win more than Luongo. To come up with that game, virtually turning things around in his own game at will, with everything on the line, says everything about what he is and how he can single-handedly win a game by himself.

This is why many consider him to be the best Goaltender in the world. He has taken much criticism this season, much of it justified, but more of it not. He has set the bar so high that anything less than Luongoesque is looked at as failure … much like Tiger Woods, who is in a slump if he goes 4 events without beating 155 other guys in a Golf Tournament, sometimes you just can't win in the eyes of both the fans and “experts.”

The positive spin on all of that is that Athletes like Tiger and Bobby Lou's competitiveness and drive to be the best gets cranked up a notch or five when they are “called out” … he'll never admit it, but almost every time Luongo rebounds as if to slam it in the doubter's faces.

Yesterday in the Calgary Herald the headline read “Captain Luongo Letting Canucks Nation Down”  … the article went on to say, er, sensationalize with countless mish-mashing gibberish; numerous inaccuracies and twisting of facts with off-the-wall “analysis”:

Call it bad luck, call it fate, but the Flames have found themselves stymied by netminders who are at the top of their game.That will likely not be the case tonight in Vancouver. While the Canucks mounted a brilliant run to make up a 13-point deficit and catch Calgary for the Northwest lead, their star goalie and captain Roberto Luongo has struggled since returning from a serious leg injury. 

To the consternation of Vancouver management and fans, their best player simply hasn't stepped up as advertised. Luongo's erratic play largely escaped criticism while the Canucks' forwards and defenceman were red-hot in their 20-5-1 streak. The whiffs and bobbles were written off to rust from the extended six-week stay Luongo spent on the injury list. Give 'im time, they said.

Well, time has passed, but with the club slumping to three straight losses as they head into tonight's showdown with Calgary at GM Place, followers of the Canucks are coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that Vancouver may have to win in spite of their highly paid goalie.

Now, there's little doubt that Lui hasn't been at his best in every game he has played since returning to the team after missing two months, but his goals-against and save percentage stats had been rapidly improving (prior to the most recent 3 games) while he cranked out the wins… and I would just like to send my personal thanks to Bruce Dowbriggin for penning such an impeccable piece of motivational material for our best player prior to the biggest game of the year.

The prevailing opinion is that winning the Division is more important to Calgary than it is to the Canucks since they held a 13-point lead as recently as a little over two months ago. While the Canucks have surged since then, the Flames have stumbled. With last night's defeat they are now 6-10 in their last 16, and there is a real possibility that jobs are on the line.

The games that really matter don't start until next week and a long run in the playoffs can erase a lot of bad memories, so even if the Canucks should somehow manage to pull this off, things could stay the same in Management, but there is little doubt that doubt is prevalent east of The Rockies.

The Flames played as if this game meant more to them than it did the Canucks … it wasn't as if it was a total no-show by the home-side, but Calgary dictated the pace for the vast majority of the game and outshot the hosts 47-25 on the night.

The Canucks prevailed in rope-a-dope fashion to tie their rivals atop the Division, but the Flames still hold the best cards in this game. The Canucks need to pass them in points to have 1st place after game #82 is said and done, as the Flames hold the first tie-breaker in wins.

The Flames have a back-to-back left on the schedule against Edmonton starting Friday while the Canucks have LA and Colorado left to play on Thursday and Saturday. As the individual games are played, both will be in the books repectively by the time the Flames take the ice for their games, so there will be absolutely no excuses should Calgary fail to finish first in the NW.

Edmonton was eliminated from playoff contention last night, but that doesn't mean they won't be up for facing the Flames trying to spoil the party in the latest editions of The Battle Of Alberta. Calgary is still in control as the Canucks have to win out to even have a chance … you would think, but stranger things have happened, and at the very least last night's 4-1 by the Canucks will make the final few days of the regular season more interesting.

Of more concern than winning the Division here on the Left Coast is that the Canucks get back to their once solid defensive play. The team's Bread & Butter is currently little more than Stale Crumbs with a bit of No-Name Brand Margarine thrown in for good measure, and the last 4 games are clearly a wake-up call for the Boys.

As the quotes above implied, the players aren't stupid. They know they're not playing very well right now and the coaches will have a very attentive group when they preach what needs to be done over these last few days as they prepare for the post-season.

The best part of the Canucks' run over the last 10 weeks is that rarely have they relied on Luongo to steal a game. The worst part of their game over the last week or so, starting with the win against Minnesota, is that they have done pretty much nothing but. Another win or two in very winnable games and they would be free & clear right now with home ice almost a done deal, but as per usual, nothing ever comes easy for this team.

Winning the Division is important, but far more crucial is getting back to what they do best, and there's only 2 more chances to try and “find it.”

Last night's effort was vastly improved over Sunday&#
039;s (could it have been any worser?) and was yet another example of how this team has been able to win games in different ways this year, and that is a good thing. However, in all likelihood, it won't translate into a long run this spring should they leave it all up to the guy between the pipes.

Luongo has been the team's Ace Up Their Sleeve while they've been the best team in the league since the start of February, but their expectations for themselves will come far from being realized should they leave everything up to their best player to win games by himself.


The Grades … 

A+ (oh-so-rarely handed out) … Loooooooouuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu

A … Mitchell

B … Ohlund, Kesler, Rypien, Johnson

C+ … Salo, Bieksa, O'Brien, Sundin, Henrik, Daniel, Burrows, Hordichuk, Wellwood

C … Edler, Bernier, Raymond

C- … Demitra

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