As soon as Roberto Luongo walked into the dressing room, he was surrounded; swarmed, really. The reporters were on all sides, overflowing out the door and into the hallway. Voice recorders pressed inches from his lips. Boom mics almost brushed the bill of his cap. TV cameras and spotlights pointed at his face, held high by men on stepstools, hoping to get a clear angle above the horde. Luongo spoke for about three minutes. He actually asked the key question.
“I’ve got to believe in myself, right?” he said.
Right there is the heart of this enigma; the Jekyll and Hyde of elite goaltenders; the guy who can get pulled and then pitch a shutout and then get pulled again in the Stanley Cup Final. After another Luongo meltdown Monday night and a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins, the Canucks’ dream season has been reduced to a Game 7 on Wednesday night in Vancouver. It hinges on somebody who has bounced back before but always leaves you wondering if he can bounce back again and why he has to keep bouncing back like this at all.
As for the Canucks, they are standing by their man. Everyone from coach Alain Vigneault to backup goaltender Cory Schneider believes Roberto Luongo will deliver a Game 7 performance that is good enough to win them the Stanley Cup. The No. 1 goaltender has bounced between great and gruesome in the championship series, surrendering three early goals before getting pulled in Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 6. Vigneault was quick to end any debate about who would get the start on Wednesday’s do-or-die game at Rogers Arena.
“I haven’t talked to him,” said Vigneault. “He knows he’s going back in next game. He’s going to be real good.”
“Probably the biggest pressure game he played all year was Game 7 against Chicago (in the first round),” said Schneider. “He had a lot riding on that game and he stepped up in the biggest way possible. He’s won a gold medal there, he’s won a lot of one-and-done games in that building and that means a lot. We’re confident he’ll be there for us.”
In Luongo you have an Olympic gold medalist, a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s best goaltender. When he is good, he’s among the best. In three home games in this series, he is 3-0 with a .979 save percentage and two shutouts. Unfortunately Luongo has been terrible at times. He invites self-doubt and doubters, and when he self-destructs, he’s spectacular. In three road games in this series, he is 0-3 with a .773 save percentage and has been pulled twice.
Game 7 could be a defining moment for Luongo, but you wonder whether he has already defined himself, no matter what he does now.
Until the next puck drops,