A Change of Fortune
Just last week, Roberto Luongo's name was not among the finalists for the Vezina Trophy as the game's best goaltender.
Just last night, however, Luongo looked like the game's best goaltender. I'm thinking he'll take that, and possibly a long playoff run this spring, over another Vezina nomination.
Up and down all season, with a golden day for Canada at the Olympics in the middle of it, Luongo made one ridiculous glove save for the Vancouver Canucks in the second period last night and many more during the rest of the evening against the persistent Los Angeles Kings in a 4-2 triumph as the Canucks completed their comeback from a series deficit to advance to the second round of the NHL post-season.
Last week, I worried that there might be no Canadian teams left in the playoffs by the middle of this week (hyper-sensitive Canucks fans, of course, took that as a prediction they would lose even though I picked their team to win the series before it began. Sigh.). Well, the Canucks are certainly more than alive, and probably will be the favourite in the new round regardless of their opponent, and the Montreal Canadiens still have a shot, while down 3-2, against the Eastern Conference champion Washington Capitals.
They were that impressive in the final two games against the Kings, one a romp, one a tight contest in which they had to fight from behind and win by scoring late.
For a few years, the Luongo worship in Vancouver as been a bit silly, really, given his lack of production when it mattered. GM Mike Gillis' decision to make him captain just added to the cult of personality.
But with all that behind him, and without having a particularly good season, wouldn't it be a compelling story if this became the spring in which Luongo finally delivered on all that promise in the NHL post-season.
At the Olympics, he was staked to a 2-0 lead in every game in which he played. There's no chance he'll have that kind of margin of error to work with in these playoffs, so if anything, he'll have to be better, probably much better, than he was in backstopping Canada to gold.
After a first round in which they victimized Jonathan Quick's glove hand over and over, the Canucks showed they may have that second tier of offensive firepower they didn't have last year, even with 35-goal shooter Alexandre Burrows failing to find the net until he hit an empty L.A. cage in the final moments last night.
The Sedin twins look a lot readier to do battle than in any previous playoffs, and the battered Vancouver blueline, forced to call in reinforcements like Nolan Baumgartner and Andrew Alberts against the Kings, seems to be holding up.
But in the end, it will have to be about Luongo, who has been better than any Western Conference goalie so far in the post-season other than, perhaps, Ilya Bryzgalov of the upstart Phoenix Coyotes.
If he can deliver after a trying season, after a season in which he was not considered among the game's very best, Luongo will carve an brand new reputation for himself in the sport.