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,
The Canucks sit one win away from their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Now all they have to do is figure out a way to win in Boston and the silverware will return to Canada for the first time since 1993. The problem is, the Canucks have been terrible away from home so far in the Stanley Cup Final. So, which Canucks team will emerge once the puck drops at TD Garden in Boston tonight for Game 6? The Canucks have been dynamite at home, playing tight, defensive hockey and winning all three games by one-goal margins. The problem, however, is that the Bruins have had their way with them on home ice, outscoring the Canucks 12-1 in Games 3 and 4. So, with the home team unbeaten so far in the final, will the Canucks be able to put up a fight in Beantown? The Canucks are hoping they’ll be able to rebound and exorcise the demons of Games 3 and 4. They’ll try to look back to the killer instinct that allowed them to bury San Jose and Nashville with games to spare and do their best to get the job done in six. Otherwise, they will allow Boston back into this series for a one-game playoff on Wednesday in Vancouver. Consider this: the Canucks are 3-4 in potential series-winning games so far in these playoffs and have been outscored 24-15 in those games. The Canucks are 5-5 on the road so far, including the three road wins they garnered in Nashville. The Bruins, meanwhile, are 2-2 in Games 6 and 7 in the post-season, with an even score line of 10-10 in those four games. They have not won a Game 6 yet in the playoffs, though both were played on the road. The Bruins are 9-3 at home in the playoffs, including dropping their first two games of the playoffs at home to the Canadiens. So, can this Canucks team finally close out a series on its first opportunity? Or, will they be forced to go the distance and hope they can grind out a series victory in Game 7 like they did in Chicago in the first round? Both teams have played a vastly different game at home than they have on the road. With the Cup on the line, which Vancouver team will show up? The answer comes to you 8 p.m. tonight.
Until the next puck drops,
Winnipeg’s mayor says it’s just “a matter of time” before a deal to move the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg is announced. Sam Katz says the deal to bring an NHL team back to Winnipeg “is going to happen.” He says there is an understanding the deal will move forward but nothing is signed, sealed and delivered yet. No one is more anxious to officially learn the fate of the Atlanta Thrashers than members of the team. The players have been given no indication one way or the other where they’ll be playing home games next season, according to goaltender Chris Mason.
“They’re not going to include us in any of the stuff and we shouldn’t be either,” Mason said Friday from his off-season home in Red Deer, Alberta. “We’ll know probably the same time or after everybody else knows, that’s the way it goes. “We’re sitting on the edge of our seats waiting to see what’s going to happen, too.” Mason has played in six different cities during his professional career and is facing the possibility of moving once again. “That’s one of the very few things that is tough about the job,” said Mason. “I’m fortunate enough to be playing hockey and that’s one of the things that you just have to deal with. It’s happened throughout a hockey player’s career and that’s just the way it goes. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again.” Mason has mixed feeling about relocating from Atlanta to Winnipeg. On one hand he feels bad about the fans and team employees that would be left behind in Atlanta but it would also give him a chance to live out a dream. “There’s definitely things that would be really cool about it,” said Mason. “Playing in Canada, for me, it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It would be really cool. Just playing in front of a packed house every night would be awesome.”
All of this was started by an article yesterday by The Globe and Mail in Toronto stating the Thrashers’ agreement with True North was done and will be announced in Winnipeg on Tuesday. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly and True North Sports and Entertainment quickly denied the report Thursday that a deal has been reached to sell the team to True North, which would relocate the team to Winnipeg, Manitoba. There are still obstacles to overcome, but it looks inevitable this time; hockey is back in Winnipeg and Canadians are celebrating across the country. The Winnipeg Jets, as they should be called, should be soaring again this year after 16 plus years in the waiting.
Until the next puck drops,
Tuesday night I, along with many others, watched as Zdeno Chara‘s hit sent Max Pacioretty‘s head into a glass stanchion, knocking Pacioretty out cold. I watched as he laid motionless for several minutes. I watched as he was taken out on a stretcher and sent to the hospital. According to Montreal coach Jacques Martin, Pacioretty, 22, suffered a severe concussion and a fracture of the 4th cervical vertebrae when Chara ran him into the end of the glass that divides the players’ benches, late in the second period at Montreal’s Bell Centre. It was an unfortunate play which very well may end Pacioretty’s N.H.L. career, which is a shame since he had been playing so well for the Canadiens. Chara received a penalty for the interference and a game misconduct with a ruling set for Wednesday. Many sports writers were certain Chara would be suspended, some even condemning his actions .
Cam Cole of the Vancouver Sun wrote “Did Chara know the support post was there? Almost certainly. It was right beside the Bruins’ bench, past which both players were skating when he began to shove Pacioretty. Did he maliciously push Pacioretty into the post? Speculative, but not out of the question. The two had clashed when Pacioretty scored the winning goal in a January game, and shoved Chara in the back afterward, as he celebrated. But now, the league is into mind-reading, trying to put itself into Chara’s head and determine whether he meant to cause serious injury. And it just doesn’t matter. He did.”
There has to be a level of accountability when it comes to the players and their actions especially when it is perceived to be an “accident”. I am in total agreement with Cam Cole’s statement. Even though Pacioretty should have been more aware of where he was, I’m sure he didn’t expect to have his head shoved into the stanchion. I just don’t buy into the ridiculous idea “it’s part of the game”. I understand that it’s a rough sport, but when it comes to situations like this, when is the N.H.L. going to take a stand and hold players more accountable for their actions? They had the chance Wednesday and they blew it. They didn’t suspend Chara at all which is an outrage.
NHL senior vice-president of hockey operations Mike Murphy said in a news release. “This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly — with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous.”
When is enough, enough? What’s it going to take to get through to these people? Does a player have to die to get through to them? I’m sure Mike Murphy would think differently if it were his son or Colin Campbell‘s son. Wait, Colin’s son does play and what a coincidence, he plays for the Boston Bruins same as Chara. Barely three years in, Pacioretty may be forced to retire because of this unfortunate incident where a player was not mindful of his surroundings! That’s what it all comes down to, being mindful of your surroundings. Had Chara paid attention to where he was, he most certainly would not have driven Pacioretty’s head into the glass stanchion! So where’s the accountability?
Bottom line, the hit was late; it was interference; it caused injury and while the design of the boards and glass were largely to blame for the severity of the injury, the responsibility is still with the hitter. Chara should have been suspended, even if for a measly two games, though I think he deserved more. To those reporters who agreed with the N.H.L.’s decision, I ask this: Where is your humanity?
Until the next puck drops,