VANCOUVER — Roberto Luongo slipped into a zone and swung some playoff momentum behind the Vancouver Canucks.
Luongo produced a night of highlight reel saves, stopping 30 shots for his first playoff shutout, as the Canucks defeated the St. Louis Blues 3-0 Friday to take a 2-0 lead in their NHL Western Conference quarter-final series.
“He’s been like this the last couple of weeks, on top of his game” said Canuck forward Daniel Sedin. “We just try to follow his lead.
“If he keeps this up we’ll be a tough team to beat.”
Mats Sundin, with his first playoff goal in five years, Alex Burrows and Henrik Sedin, into an empty net, scored the Canuck goals.
The best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final series now returns to St. Louis for games Sunday and Tuesday.
Luongo may have won the game in the third period when Vancouver was clinging to a 1-0 lead. He used his size and quickness to leave the Blues shaking their heads.
With St. Louis on a power play, Luongo slid across the net to block a point-blank shot from Andy McDonald. On the same series he got a glove on a laser from T. J. Oshie.
That brought chants of “Louuuu, Louuuuu” from the towel-waving, sellout crowd of 18,630.
In the second period, with the Blues again on the power play, Alex Steen fired a shot from along the boards. David Backes tipped the puck, which Luongo stopped with his foot. Backes collected the rebound and shot again, but the big Canuck goaltender managed another toe save.
To the packed arena, the hard-hitting game moved at light speed. In Luongo’s world, the puck looked like it was travelling at a snail’s pace.
“I don’t know if it slows down,” he laughed. “You feel like you see the puck more. Sometimes you don’t see it and it hits you.
“When things are going like that, you just try to take advantage of it as much as you can.”
Earning his first shutout in just his 14th playoff game didn’t matter to Luongo.
“I don’t care,” he shrugged. “I care about the win. That’s all that matters right now.”
It was another frustrating night for the Blues, who lost Wednesday’s series opener 2-1.
Veteran Keith Tkachuk said Luongo is good, but the Blues are making him look even better.
“Luongo is a great goaltender and he’d done a good job but he’s seeing a lot of shots,” said Tkachuk.
“We’ve got to find a way to compete a little better and find the net on the second and third chances and get around him when we can. We’ve just got to find a way to get some pucks on the net.”
A physical game turned nasty at the final buzzer. After some initial pushing and yapping, several fights broke out.
St. Louis forward B. J. Crombeen accused Canuck defenceman Kevin Bieksa of starting the melee
“He kind of slew-footed me at the end of the game,” said Crombeen. “It’s a pretty gutless play. I just went after him to address it.”
Blues coach Andy Murray was frustrated with the players Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault sent out on the ice.
“We’ve got a group of guys that stick together as a team,” said Murray. “We had our young guys on the ice.
“I didn’t like the line he sent out. We were alerted by the league there is to be no messages sent at the end of the game.”
Vigneault shrugged off Murray’s comments.
“I think both teams have been very physical,” he said. “Both teams are going out there battling for every inch on the ice.
“That’s what playoff hockey is all about.”
It’s the first time the Blues have lost back-to-back games in regulation since Jan. 11 and Jan. 13.
“I thought we were better tonight than we were in the previous game, but we weren’t good enough so we’ve got room for improvement,” said Murray.
“We need to be better and we plan to be in St. Louis.”
Luongo knows the road to the second round of the playoffs travels through a noisy Blues arena.
“It’s going to be fun,” he said. “It’s going to be very loud. It’s going to get their guys going.
“At the same time, buildings like that get me going too. We are looking forward to playing games on the road.”
Sundin notched the game’s first goal with 1:56 left in the second period when he deflected a pass from Pavol Demitra past Blues goaltender Chris Mason. The play looked innocent enough but the puck seemed to squeeze through Mason’s pads.
It was Sundin’s first goal in 15 games, dating back to the regular season. Signed as a free agent for US$5.6 million in December, the big centre last appeared in the 2004 playoffs with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sundin played the game with a black eye he picked up during a collision in practice Thursday.
“He found a way to contribute the winning goal and was responsible at both ends,” said Vigneault. “I though his game was good.”
Burrows made it 2-0 at 9:46 of the third. Daniel Sedin fired a shot wide, but Burrows was able to tuck the rebound behind Mason.
Notes: Play was still going on in a 0-0 first period but NHL.com had the Blues leading 1-0 on an Andy McDonald goal at 4:19. The website was corrected before the period ended. …The teams combined for 33 hits, 18 by St. Louis, in the first period. …Coach Alain Vigneault says Taylor Pyatt “should be coming back soon” but he isn’t sure when the forward will play again. Pyatt’s fiancee was killed in a car accident April 2 in Jamaica. …The Blues played their franchise 300th playoff game.