Retuning to his hometown, Montreal, Luongo made 30 saves to post his third shutout of the season Tuesday as the Vancouver Canucks won their fifth consecutive road game 4-0 over the slumping Canadiens.
Luongo had to spend Monday night in the intensive care unit of a Montreal hospital as a precautionary measure after taking a soft Daniel Sedin wrist shot off the throat in Monday’s practice.
Despite getting practically no sleep – because he had to sit up all night, barely eating anything – over the previous 24 hours, Luongo made quick work of all the Canadiens could muster to post his 30th career shutout.
“I felt a little nauseous in the first period, but I kind of settled in afterwards,” said Luongo, who had never before spent the night in a hospital. “If I feel that I can play and contribute to the team, I want to be in there, and that’s the bottom line.
“Unfortunately tonight I couldn’t communicate with my defencemen, but things went pretty well.”
Josh Green, Lukas Krajicek, Ryan Kesler and Jan Bulis scored for the surging Canucks (26-19-1), who have won nine of their last 10 games and moved past the idle Calgary Flames into first place in the Northwest Division.
Cristobal Huet made 20 saves in goal for the Canadiens (25-17-2), who have lost nine of their last 13 games and haven’t scored a goal in two straight, drawing a chorus of boos from the sellout crowd of 21,273 at the Bell Centre throughout the third period.
The Canadiens have been outscored 14-3 in losing their last three games and have failed to score an even strength goal in nine of their last 10 periods, dating back to a 4-2 win over Philadelphia on Jan. 11.
Though the Canadiens offence has been silent over the last 132 minutes and 30 seconds of hockey, head coach Guy Carbonneau singled out Huet for letting in two goals in the first period and putting Montreal down 2-0 early.
“I thought we got off on the right foot tonight, unfortunately everything they shot at the net went in,” Carbonneau said. “I thought we had a good first period and we came out of it down 2-0, and we probably had our best chances in the second period but we came out of that down 3-0. But obviously, I understand that if we want to win we have to score some goals.”
Conversely, the Canucks have scored 39 goals and allowed only 22 over their last 10 games, riding some incredible special teams play to the top of the division standings. Vancouver has killed off 50 of 53 penalties and has scored on 13 of 54 power-play opportunities over those 10 games.
“We’ve been playing really well, especially since the holidays,” Luongo said. “We just have to keep doing what we’re doing, especially on the road. We’re playing as a team and every game is important seeing how tight our division is right now.”
The victory made it a triumphant return to the Bell Centre for Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who coached the Canadiens from the start of the 1997 season until November of 2000 and was facing his old team for the first time.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate the win,” Vigneault said. “Not only was this a big two points for our team, but also for me to come back here and for us to win it in the fashion that we did. I thought we played a solid game at both ends of the rink, and when we did have a few breakdowns Luongo was really big for us.”
The axe fell from Carbonneau on Tuesday as he shuffled all his forward lines and finally lost patience with struggling winger Sergei Samsonov, sending him to the press box for the first time this season.
Carbonneau also benched Craig Rivet, snapping a streak of 153 consecutive games played for the Canadiens defenceman and marking the first time he was a healthy scratch in at least five seasons.
“Nothing’s working for us right now and I had to do something to turn this around,” Carbonneau said. “Those are the decisions I made and they didn’t work. But we’ll continue making decisions and we’ll get out of this, that’s for sure.”
The Canucks took a 1-0 lead at 6:36 of the first when Bieksa wheeled around the Canadiens net and fed Green for his second of the year.
Krajicek made it 2-0 on the power play at 8:58 of the first, taking a feed from Bulis and firing a wrist shot to the far top corner for his second of the year.
Montreal came out with a bit more jump in the second, but it was Vancouver who scored to extend its lead when Kesler tipped a Bieksa point shot past Huet at 13:51 of the second.
Bulis put the game out of reach at 0:55 of the third when he beat Huet with a long slapper for his eighth of the season.
Notes: Canucks D Willie Mitchell missed his second game with a groin injury, while winger Taylor Pyatt missed his first game with a thumb injury that will keep him out of the lineup indefinitely. … Samsonov has no goals in his last 16 games, and two goals in the last 36 games, both coming against the Boston Bruins on Dec. 12. Rivet had two goals and two assists but was a minus-6 over his previous seven games. … Canadiens centre Radek Bonk returned from a neck injury that cost him five games. … Canadiens winger Garth Murray, who was placed on waivers Tuesday, was also not in the lineup.