The rangy goalie with the unruly hair and disciplined work ethic is the biggest reason the Canucks have clinched an NHL playoff spot after missing last year’s post-season.
It’s hard to imagine the Canucks having a 45-23-7 record – good enough for first place in the Northwest Division – without Luongo, whom they obtained from Florida last spring in the Todd Bertuzzi deal.
The Montreal native has been in net for all but one of Vancouver’s wins and has started 70 games this season. The Canucks are also 29-10-7 in one-goal games this year.
But instead of talking about what he’s done for the team Luongo would rather point out what his teammates have done for him.
“I did not do this by myself,” he said during a conference call Wednesday. “It takes 20 guys to make a successful team and make the playoffs.
“We have been playing great all season as a unit. We did it together. We want to achieve more when the playoffs start.”
Heading into Wednesday night’s games Luongo was tied with New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur with a league-leading 44 wins, was third with a .922 save percentage and fifth with a 2.26 goals against average.
He’s often mentioned along with Brodeur and Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby as a candidate for the Hart Trophy as the league’s most valuable player. Right now, the only hardware Luongo is focused on winning is the Stanley Cup.
“To be honest I try not to deal with that (MVP) much,” Luongo said. “It’s a great honour to be mentioned for that trophy.
“At the same time, I know I’ve got a job to do and my teammates are a big part of the reason why I’m being mentioned for that trophy. We’ll see once the season is over what happens. For right now I’d like to stay focused on what I’m trying to do for my team.”
Crosby gets Luongo’s vote as MVP.
“Sid is leading the league in scoring,” he said. “I think he’s probably one of the best candidates to choose.”
Luongo also shrugs off talk about setting an NHL record for wins in a season by a goaltender.
Both he and Brodeur are on track to break the previous mark of 47 wins set by Bernie Parent of the Philadelphia Flyers in 1973-74.
“That record, for me, is not really that important,” he said. “I think now, with the shootout wins and stuff like that, it kind of diminishes it a bit.
“For me, that’s not really important as far as how many wins we get.”
Parent’s record came before the NHL had regular-season overtime or shootouts. He also had 12 ties during the 1973-74 season.
Of all Luongo’s achievements this year, reaching the playoffs might be the most important for him. After stints with the New York Islanders and Panthers, this will be the first time in seven NHL seasons he’ll play in the Stanley Cup tournament.
“It’s a nice feeling to know you are going to the playoffs,” said Luongo, who picked up his fifth shutout of the year in Vancouver’s 3-0 win over Colorado on Tuesday night.
“I have been working my whole career to get there. It’s nice to know that’s in the bank.”
The Canucks won’t be content to coast through their final six regular-season games. Vancouver remains in a battle with Minnesota for first place in the Northwest Division.
The team that wins the division gets the third seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
“I think over the last few weeks the focus has been shifting (from the playoffs) to trying to win the division,” said Luongo. “You try to stay even-keeled and focused the rest of the way to try and achieve your goal of winning the division.”
Luongo is a workhorse. He has to be ordered to take a day off from practice.
He already has shattered the Canucks franchise record of 38 wins in a season, set by Kirk McLean in 1991-92. Also in his sights is McLean’s record of 72 games played, established in 1974-75.
“That’s more of a coach’s decision,” said Luongo. “If he decides he wants to rest me one or two nights, that’s going to be his decision.”