Bet on Roberto Luongo to bounce back
And by going all Blackhawks on him, we mean getting inside his head for a few games.
For what it's worth, Luongo's demeanor Tuesday suggested a calm and confident person, not the same cat we saw the past few years during his struggles against Chicago.
"Obviously, it was disappointing last night," Luongo told ESPN.com on Tuesday after having spoken to a horde of media for close to a half hour. "We're all upset with ourselves. But right now, I'm in the Stanley Cup finals. I've been waiting for this my whole life. I'm not going to shrug my shoulders and put my head down. It's time to go to work here. Pick yourself back up, dust yourself up and go back at it. We have a chance to win the game tomorrow and go home up 3-1."
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That bounce-back didn't happen immediately in the first round with his nemesis, those darn Blackhawks. They pelted him in back-to-back games to the point where head coach Alain Vigneault saw the need to give his franchise goalie a mental break and, in stunning fashion, started Cory Schneider for Game 6.
Credit Dr. Vigneault. Luongo came back with a masterful performance in Game 7 with the season on the line and the Blackhawks sensing history. From that day on, the Canucks goalie has looked sharp as he rolled through Nashville, San Jose and the Bruins in the first two games of the Cup finals.
Then came Monday night. Eight goals. Mercy. Eight goals! Are the B's in his head now?
"I don't know," Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. "He's a great goalie. I had him at the Olympics. He was great."
What Bergeron witnessed firsthand as teammates on Team Canada was Luongo standing up to incredible pressure on home soil, not to mention replacing legend Martin Brodeur, to win Olympic gold.
Oh, we know, we know, 99 percent of people in the hockey world believe that Luongo didn't really win the gold as much as he didn't lose it.
What a bunch of hogwash. The guy stopped the puck under the most intense circumstances. Do people not remember his heart-stopping save on Pavol Demitra late in the semifinal game against Slovakia?
"I don't care what people say, Luongo is a great goalie who wins big games," Wayne Gretzky told ESPN.com via text Tuesday.
Gretzky was at the helm of Team Canada at the 2004 World Cup of Hockey when Luongo stepped in for an injured Brodeur and delivered a clutch performance to beat the Czech Republic in the semifinals in Toronto.
But people choose to have selective memories when it comes to athletes. And for whatever reason, the naysayers seem to outnumber the believers when it comes to Luongo, even in his own town of Vancouver.
It'll be that way until Luongo wins the Stanley Cup, whether that's fair or not.
We're not letting Luongo off the hook for Monday night. Was he shaky? You bet. But you can hardly hang that loss on him. His team was dreadful. The Canucks stopped playing at 4-0. Georges Vezina couldn't have made a difference in goal at that point.
"Can't really say it was his fault," Canucks star Daniel Sedin said. "As a team, we didn't help him out."
But the Bruins were on to something in Game 3 that they really didn't do in the opening two games to make Luongo's job more difficult. They were mostly a perimeter team in terms of their shot selection in Vancouver. In Game 3, the Bruins crashed the net, fought for rebounds and made it a lot harder on Luongo.
"I don't think we're going to score eight goals on him every night," Bruins winger Michael Ryder said Tuesday. "He's a great goaltender. We think he's going to definitely bounce back. We have to make sure we keep doing some of the same things, get traffic, keep shooting the puck. He's usually going to make that first save. It's all about getting to the net, outbattling their D and getting loose pucks. We need to get those dirty goals on him."
The Bruins don't want to give out bulletin-board material, but you know that privately they're wondering whether they've gotten to Luongo as the Hawks did more than a month ago.
"It's happened a bunch of times. It's not necessarily having to do with the Chicago series," Luongo said of having a bad game. "It happened last year in the playoffs. It happens to everybody. This is part of goaltending. You got to have a short memory. You can't dwell on what happened last night."
It shouldn't take long to find out where Luongo's head is Wednesday night. But if we had to guess? Bet on Luongo bouncing back.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
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