“It could have been 3-0 Toronto at that point,” said Canucks captain Markus Naslund. “That’s what you want from a star goaltender. He makes the saves when he needs to. That’s why we’re winning games.”
Luongo, the starting goalie for the Western Conference in the Jan. 24 all-star game, stopped 35 of 36 shots and was named the game’s first star.
“I knew they were going to come out strong and I was able to make a few big saves early,” said Luongo. “Luckily we escaped with the 1-1 tie after the first period and I think we were able to build confidence after that.”
The Canucks blew it open with five straight goals, four of them in the third period to break open a close affair. Daniel Sedin had a goal and three assists while Naslund, Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, Taylor Pyatt and Trevor Linden also scored for the Canucks (25-19-1), who got their first five goals all on the power play.
Goaltending and special teams were the difference in this game, Vancouver going 5-for-10 with the man advantage while Toronto was 0-for-8.
Bates Battaglia had the lone reply for the Leafs (20-20-6), who heard the boos from the 19,608 fans at Air Canada Centre. Most of the ire was directed at Andrew Raycroft, the Leafs goalie really getting it from the crowd late in the game. The crowd chanted his name in mockery and gave him the Bronx cheer when he stopped the puck.
“It’s heartbreaking,” said Leafs captain Mats Sundin, who was so disappointed in the fan’s reaction to Raycroft he was driven to use expletives. “For a guy that’s played his heart out, and in my opinion, had a pretty . . . solid first half of the season . . . They had five of their goals on the power play, a 5-on-3 goal, and our specialty teams, our power play, was terrible. To me, that was the big difference.”
Raycroft, who stopped 15 of 21 shots, took it in stride.
“That’s just the way it is,” he said. “(Fans) pay pretty good money to come watch us play, and if we don’t perform, they can boo all they want. And I’m obviously the main target. I understand that, and it’s cool with me.”
The fans had nothing to complain early on as the Leafs came out of the gates on fire and outshot the Canucks 14-3 in the first period. But thanks to a wall named Luongo, the Canucks went to the dressing room tied 1-1.
“I think the three-hour time difference, it took us a little time to get used to it,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of his team’s slow start. “We didn’t practice yesterday, we travelled the whole day. I really thought after the second period we played better and executed better.
“The first period was all about Luongo,” added Vigneault. “He kept us in it and we found a way to win this game.”
Vancouver opened the scoring on only its second shot of the game, Ohlund beating Raycroft glove side with a nice one-timer from the slot at 8:46 after set-up from Daniel Sedin on a Canucks power play, a goal that got the significant Canucks contingent in the crowd to its feet.
Battaglia tied it on a strange one with 6:29 to go in the opening period, the Leafs forward flubbing a shot from in-close bounced over Luongo and in.
Daniel Sedin put Vancouver back up a goal 39 seconds into the second period, ripping a wrist shot from the high slot top corner over Raycroft’s glove side, again on the power play. The Canucks had two goals on only four shots on goal, not doing much for Raycroft’s shaky status with Leaf fans.
The back-breaker came 4:39 into the third period with the Canucks on a 5-on-3 power play, Linden banging in a rebound to give Vancouver a 3-1 lead. The Leafs were down two men because Battaglia got an unsportsmanlike penalty for apparently yapping too much after the original hooking call on Tomas Kaberle although the Leafs said Battaglia didn’t say a word.
With the crowd still unsettled and angry at the referees, Pyatt broke in alone 13 seconds later and beat Raycroft five-hole for a power-play goal, and it was lights out for the Leafs at 4-1.
Salo made it 5-1 with his shot from the point bounced in off Raycroft’s glove, one the Leafs goalie should have had. Nalsund walked in alone and deked out Raycroft at 17:29 to make it a rout at 6-1.
The Olympics must be a distant memory. Fellow gold medallists Sundin and Naslund were in each other’s faces a few times, with Sundin giving his fellow captain a face wash in the third period.
Notes: The Canucks-Tor game was part of all-Canadian triple-header on Hockey Day In Canada, Ottawa blowing out Montreal 8-3 in the opener and Edmonton playing at Calgary in the late game. . . . Saturday’s game was designated as Canadian Forces Appreciation Night at Air Canada Centre with the Leafs honouring Canadian Forces personnel and having more than 100 of them attend the game as well as a ceremonial puck drop before the game. . . . The Canucks play the Habs in Montreal on Tuesday and the red-hot Senators in Ottawa on Thursday. . . . The Leafs departed for Florida on Saturday night, where they play Tuesday at Tampa and Thursday at Miami.