- Scott Burnside, NHL
- 0 Shares
BOSTON -- So is this the memory we will have of Roberto Luongo and the 2011 Stanley Cup finals?
The Vancouver netminder sitting on a chair at the end of the Canucks' bench, ball cap pulled low over his eyes as though to block out the sight of his image on the TD Garden scoreboard and the attendant jeering from the Boston faithful?
Maybe he was shielding his eyes from the score itself. Perhaps he was wondering whether Tim Thomas would be able to find anything nice to say about him now. Luongo sure had a lot of time to ponder all these things after being pulled just 8:35 into the first period of Monday's Game 6.
One win from the franchise's first Stanley Cup.
Family and friends on hand for a possible celebration.
The Cup so close, ready to be lifted out of its case and up into the air.
And that was the best Luongo could bring?
Three goals on eight shots, two of them questionable, and gone for the night. Oh, the Canucks played the full 60 minutes, but this game was over the moment Andrew Ference's power-play point shot ended up behind Luongo to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead en route to a 5-2 victory that forces a Game 7.
You could feel the air go out of the Presidents' Trophy winners from Vancouver as Luongo was summoned to the bench for Cory Schneider for the second time in this series.
"They came out flying, obviously, and got some goals and obviously didn't make enough key saves to weather the storm early," Luongo said as reporters and cameras in the visitors dressing room engulfed him.
Was it nerves, playing with so much on the line?
"Honestly, I had a good feeling all day," Luongo said. "I was not extra nervous or anything like that. I was excited to play, and we had a chance to win the Cup. Nerves is part of playing in the playoffs, you know. I think you have nerves every game."
The pat answer in the Canucks' dressing room after being blasted for the third straight time in Boston (they were outscored 17-3 in three games here) was they're "going home with a chance to win the Cup" and "what more could you ask for?"
"You know what, we lose as a team, we win as a team. Enough of blaming goalies or players or anything like that," said the NHL's reigning regular-season scoring champ, Daniel Sedin, who assisted on both Vancouver goals Monday night. "Like I said, we're going into Game 7. We feel very good at home, and the crowd is going to be going. Like I said, we played 82 games to be in this situation."
But it doesn't always work out that way, does it?
Ask the Detroit Red Wings, who won their first three home games of the 2009 Stanley Cup finals only to see Maxime Talbot score twice as the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrated a Cup victory on Joe Louis Arena ice in Game 7. The difference in that series was Chris Osgood never offered Marc-Andre Fleury goaltending tips once the Red Wings had taken a 3-2 series lead.
You see, here's where this wacky series has taken a most delicious turn, given Luongo's egg-laying performance Monday night. It doesn't matter that Luongo's comments after Game 5 have been stripped down or misconstrued; they have become part of the fabric of this series. Those comments have become a nattering goblin chasing Luongo and the Canucks all the way back to the West Coast.
Luongo's chiding Tim Thomas about his aggressive style after Maxim Lapierre beat the Bruins goalie from a bad angle for a 1-0 Vancouver win in Game 5 -- and that's what it was, regardless of how Luongo couched it and then wondered aloud the next day why Thomas hadn't said anything nice about him all series -- would have been an asterisk, an afterthought if Luongo and the Canucks had gotten the job done in Game 6.
But they didn't.
Instead, the comments are tin cans tied to the bumper of the Canucks' dented clunker as they wing home trying to escape the stink of a blown opportunity. They are words that will attach themselves permanently to Luongo if he can't pull off a win Wednesday night.
"It happened. There is nothing we can do about it. We've already turned the page on that and we're going back home," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said of the team's first-period collapse. "We've got this great opportunity in front of our fans [who are] behind us. We're going to make the best of it."
As for lifting Luongo, Vigneault simply said it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. As if there was any doubt, Vigneault confirmed Luongo will start Wednesday night. And why not? He has allowed just two goals and pitched two 1-0 shutouts in the three home games in this series.
Can he do it again? Sure.
And yet ...
Players talk about the enormity of being this close. These opportunities to win a Stanley Cup are like finding a Rembrandt at a garage sale, sometimes once in a lifetime. Sometimes not even that. No matter what the Canucks say, somewhere in the backs of their minds will be the worm of doubt that whispers, "Was Game 6 the beginning of the end of their opportunity?"
Luongo is the face of this disappointment, but he is not all of it.
The Bruins established a Stanley Cup finals record by scoring four goals in 4:14 on Monday night, the fastest four goals scored in a finals series since 1956 when Montreal scored four in 5:29 against Detroit. The last of the Bruins' four goals went in at 9:45 in the first period, so there was time for Vancouver to mount some sort of comeback.
There was time, but precious little effort, as Thomas turned aside 36 of 38 shots. The Boston goaltender has virtually locked up the Conn Smythe Trophy voting regardless of how it shakes down in Game 7.
Henrik Sedin scored his first goal of the series 22 seconds into the third period. It is his only point. Ryan Kesler was held off the score sheet again and has one assist in the series (in Game 1). Mason Raymond was lost to injury after being taken into the boards in an awkward fashion by Johnny Boychuk on the first shift of the game.
"We're not going to point the finger at him [Luongo] or the twins or Kes or me or anybody," Canucks defenseman Kevin Bieksa said. "We'll take it as a team and go back to Van and win as a team."
Fair enough. But one has to wonder where Luongo's mindset will be in 48 hours. He rebounded from being yanked in Game 4 and giving up 12 goals in two games here last week to pitch that 1-0 shutout in Game 5. But that was before he ran off at the mouth and had his third straight meltdown on the road.
"I'm not going to make any excuses; it just didn't happen for me obviously all three games. I'm just going to move on right now," Luongo said. "We have one game at home to win a Stanley Cup. We've had some success there as a team, and that's what we're looking for.
"I've got to believe in myself, right? That's a big component of bouncing back and playing a good game," he added. "We're going to put what happened tonight behind us as soon as possible and get ready for what is going to be a dream as far as playing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final."
In 48 hours, we'll find out whether Luongo's dream comes true or whether we were witness to the start of a nightmare finish for the Vancouver netminder and his teammates.
Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Will Roberto Luongo's Cup dream come true, or were we witness to the start of a nightmare finish for the Vancouver netminder and his teammates?