CHICAGO – Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo was so desperate for a change in his team’s fortunes, he defied one of playoff hockey’s most visible superstitions.
Sporting a clean-shaven look in place of the usual post-season beard, a determined Luongo provided the kind of goaltending the Canucks will need in order to avoid elimination from the NHL playoffs at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks for a second straight year.
Vancouver’s captain turned back 29 of 30 shots Sunday to lead the Canucks to a 4-1 victory over Chicago at the United Center. The Canucks’ win cut Chicago’s lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal to 3-2, with Game 6 in Vancouver on Tuesday.
“I knew that was going to be important to have a good first period and make a couple of key saves,” said Luongo, who shaved off the traditional playoff beard on Saturday. “Obviously we scored some goals and that helped us get off to the start that we wanted.”
The Canucks were on the ropes heading into Game 5, and it showed. In Game 4 Vancouver was rattled early as Chicago went on to score five goals in the first 35 minutes and hammered Luongo with 34 shots.
On Sunday, a quick lead courtesy of Christian Ehrhoff and an efficient Luongo made all the difference. Luongo allowed few second chances while Chicago managed 10 first period shots, down from 17 on Friday.
Quieting the rowdy Chicago crowd also made a difference as when Ehrhoff scored just 59 seconds into game.
?It’s always nice to get that first goal, get a good start and take the crowd out,?said Ehrhoff, who scored the first goal in Vancouver?s 5-1 victory over Chicago to open the best-of-seven series.?It was kind of like Game 1. We were really focused and just had the eye on getting away with the win here.?
But it was Luongo who set the tone.
“Roberto’s such a big part of our team and when’s he’s on the top of his game and in control everybody feeds off that,” Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. “We had to come up to night and play a big game. We had that one game mentality, came up as a group and gave ourselves another chance.”
If facing elimination helped sharpen the Canucks’ attention, they’ll take the same approach Tuesday as they look to even the series and take it back to Chicago for a finale on Thursday.
“For us it?s just one game at a time,” said the Ehrhoff. “We’ve got to bring the same focus and can’t get frustrated with anything not going our way.”