- Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com columnist
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BOSTON -- Dear Mr. Luongo,
I'm so sorry I missed you Monday evening. My intent was to meet up with you at TD Garden, where I was under the assumption you and your Vancouver Canucks teammates planned to show up to play Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals.
By the time I settled into my seat in the first period, you were already gone, having waved your white Canucks flag in surrender. You had given up three goals on eight shots, and your coach couldn't stand to watch anymore.
For the second time in three games in our fair city, you were yanked from the Stanley Cup finals, reduced to a high-priced spectator with a baseball cap and yet another gaping hole in your postseason dossier. After your team's 5-2 loss, you were the talk of the locker room, for all the wrong reasons.
First, a confession. I was late for this heavily anticipated matchup because I spent the day scouring sporting goods shops looking for the proper apparatus to "pump your tires." It was brought to my attention this was something you felt Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas should have done for you, but he's been kind of busy shutting down your Hart trophy candidates. So I took it upon myself to show some old-fashioned New England hospitality and do the honors.
You do remember your comments, right? After Thomas gave up a late goal to Maxim Lapierre in a 1-0 Game 5 loss, you declared it was a shot you would have stopped.
"It's not hard if you're playing in the paint," you said. "It's an easy save for me, but if you're wandering out and aggressive like he does, that's going to happen. He might make some saves I won't, but in a case like that, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we're in a good position to bury those."
Naturally those comments did not sit well with the Bruins. They were particularly curious since you had just come off two of the more dreadful back-to-back performances in recent postseason memory.
You followed up the next day by whining about Thomas, "I've been pumping his tires since the series started. I haven't heard one nice thing he had to say about me."
Hmm. That's curious as well. Since when is it a prerequisite for the competition to lavish his opponent with hearts and flowers and lollipops and best wishes? Thomas might not have been pumping your tires, but he wasn't slashing them, either. Lord knows he would have had enough ammunition had he cared to go that route.
He didn't because he's a thoughtful, poised, composed hockey player. He's got better things to do than dissect each goal you've let up. Besides, with so many to choose from, who'd have the time?
No matter. If pumping your tires is what you want, I was prepared to oblige.
There were two problems with this seemingly mundane assignment. The first: The minute anyone in the metro Boston area heard your name, he or she launched a string of expletives normally reserved for Ulf Samuelsson. You have a bit of an image problem here, Mr. Luongo, because of your decision to verbally challenge the aforementioned Mr. Thomas.
The insinuation from you, your teammate Kevin Bieksa and your coach, Alain Vigneault, that Thomas is "leaky" is, at this hour, well, laughable.
Did you ever take mathematics in school? In case you need a refresher course on how numbers work, let's review the data in front of us. In this Stanley Cup series, you have given up 17 goals. Mr. Thomas, the subject of your skepticism, has given up eight goals.
The scores of the three games Boston dropped in Vancouver were 1-0 on a defensive breakdown, 3-2 in overtime and the aforementioned 1-0 decision in Game 5. All three games were tightly contested, and all three were decided late.
In each case, Thomas kept the Bruins alive with the aggressive, albeit unorthodox style that seems to aggravate you so much. Thomas, you see, has a habit of giving his team a chance to win every time out, so much so that should his team hoist the Stanley Cup on your ice Wednesday evening, he will be the Conn Smythe winner as postseason MVP. In fact, Mr. Luongo, there's a growing sentiment that he might win the award even if your team prevails.
Here's the second problem with the concept of "pumping your tires": They are shredded beyond repair. Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic and Andrew Ference took turns drilling 8-inch spikes into them Monday night. You wilted under Boston's attack, and your team followed suit. Again.
Now, you might well win the Stanley Cup when you return to the friendly confines of your own rink. If so, what will we have learned about you?
That you know how to shine at home, where it's comfortable and easy and safe. That you imploded on the road the moment the pressure was on and you were forced to deal with some unpleasant adversity.
You've given up 15 goals in three games here, Mr. Luongo. And you have the audacity to suggest that Tim Thomas is the weak link?
I'm not known for jumping on athletes, but here's what really pumps my tires: your superior, condescending attitude toward one of the best stories in hockey.
Tim Thomas is 37, a 217th overall draft pick who toiled for years in the minors and in Europe, who had to fight and scratch and claw for a chance at a starting job, which he did not earn until he was 31. His livelihood was in question as early as this past season, when he underwent hip surgery that threatened to derail his future.
Tuukka Rask was thought to be the goalie-in-waiting, and he might well be a fine one someday. But he doesn't have Tim Thomas' grit or heart or guts or resolve.
Neither do you, Mr. Luongo. You might have that blue-blood hockey pedigree that comes along with being a No. 4 overall pick and an Olympic gold-medal goalie, but that doesn't give you the right to turn up your nose at Tim Thomas.
You certainly have had some fine, fine moments in your career, but you will be hard pressed to find anyone who will include these Stanley Cup finals among them.
I don't know who will win Game 7 on Wednesday night, but either way, I do know which goalie stood tall and proud and pumped up his team with his inspired play.
Sorry, Mr. Luongo. You fell flat there, too.
Sincerely, Jackie MacMullan
Jackie MacMullan is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.
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