BOSTON – The Vancouver Canucks are standing by their man.
Everyone from coach Alain Vigneault to backup goaltender Cory Schneider believes Roberto Luongo will deliver a Game 7 performance that is good enough to win them the Stanley Cup.
The No. 1 goaltender has volleyed between great and gruesome in the championship series, surrendering three early goals before getting pulled in Monday’s 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 6.
Vigneault was quick to end any debate about who would get the start on Wednesday’s do-or-die game at Rogers Arena.
“I haven’t talked to him,” said Vigneault. “He knows he’s going back in next game. He’s going to be real good.”
It’s been an up-and-down post-season for Luongo. He struggled during the opening round against Chicago—Schneider was a surprise starter in Game 6—but returned to make 31 saves in a clutch Game 7 victory.
The Canucks are expecting history to repeat itself.
“Probably the biggest pressure game he played all year was Game 7 against Chicago (in the first round),” said Schneider. “He had a lot riding on that game and he stepped up in the biggest way possible. He’s won a gold medal there, he’s won a lot of one-and-done games in that building and that means a lot.
“We’re confident he’ll be there for us.”
He should be well-rested. Luongo was pulled after allowing three quick goals just 8:35 into the first period and spent the rest of the evening on the end of the bench.
The 32-year-old veteran stepped up and accepted much of the blame afterwards.
“They came out flying obviously and got some goals and I obviously didn’t make enough key saves to weather the storm early,” Luongo said.
Luongo believes he’s ready to move on from his poor performance.
“I’ve got to believe in myself, right? That’s a big component of bouncing back and playing a good game,” he said. “So we’re going to put what happened tonight behind us as soon as possible and get ready for obviously what is going to be a dream—as far as playing in a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final.”
Schneider replaced Luongo and gave up another goal in short order and the Canucks trailed 4-0 after 20 minutes. The rookie finished the game, stopping 30 of 32 shots.
Boston goaltender Tim Thomas stopped 36 of 38 shots and was named the game’s first star.
Luongo and Thomas had done some verbal jostling prior to the game. After the Canucks won 1-0 in Game 5 on Friday, Luongo said he probably could have stopped the winning goal.
Thomas wouldn’t bite after Game 6 when asked a similar question about Luongo’s performance.
“I’m not going to go there,” said Thomas. “I would prefer to focus on the fact that (Brad Marchand) made a great shot and came up big for us and got that first goal that helped lead us to a victory.”
Luongo has allowed just two goals against the Bruins in three games in Vancouver and has two shutouts. But he has given up 15 goals in three games in Boston.
“I’m not going to make any excuses. It just didn’t happen for me obviously, all three games (in Boston),” Luongo said.
Both Luongo and Thomas are finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the NHL’s top goaltender. The Canucks players were quick to defend Luongo when told he had accepted blame for the loss.
“Never,” said forward Manny Malhotra. “We want to talk about being a team all year long, this is no time to start pointing fingers. We came in here as a team and to a man we could have been better. It’s on all of us.”