CHICAGO – The Canucks shook things up with a surprise change in goaltenders, but in the end Roberto Luongo still found himself in the Vancouver net with the game on the line.
After the veteran goalie gave up 10 goals in two previous games, coach Alain Vigneault named Cory Schneider to start Sunday’s crucial Game 6 of the Western Conference quarter-finals.
But when Schneider cramped up defending on a third period penalty shot by Chicago’s Michael Frolik, Luongo was pressed back into service.
He gave up just one goal this time, but it was costly as Chicago claimed a 4-3 overtime victory to tie the Western Conference quarter-finals series at three wins apiece.
The rebound shot by Blackhawks’ rookie Ben Smith came at 15:50 of overtime in front 22,014 raucous fans at the United Center.
“It was a point shot with a screen and I think as the puck went through the screen it was deflected,” Luongo said. “I reacted, I got a piece of it with my knob and then I’m not sure exactly what happened but Smith just chipped it over me on the rebound.”
He handled two saves in the final 17 minutes 29 seconds of regulation and had 10 in overtime.
Luongo found out Saturday afternoon that he would be benched.
“It’s a team game,” he said. “Me and Schneids, we had the best goaltending duo all year long. I put the team ahead of myself … He’s just as good as I am and it doesn’t matter who’s in the net.”
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault publicly expressed confidence in Luongo after a Saturday practice, but at the same time was also thinking about making a change.
“We talked within our group management and coaches and just made the decision and told both that I was going with Schneids,” Vigneault said. “All year long we’ve used both goaltenders and to tell the truth, I just went with the gut and felt Cory could give us a really good game tonight.”
While disappointed, several Canuck players said the effort was their best of the series and something to carry back home for Game 7.
“We played a really hard game tonight and maybe should have won it, but that’s the way it is in playoffs,” said Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. “We’re going back home now and maybe if we can play like this we’re going to be successful.”
The Canucks had three leads on Sunday. They grabbed an 1-0 lead on Daniel Sedin’s fifth playoff goal at the 2:06 mark of the opening period, went up 2-1 late in the first on Alexandre Burrow’s first and opened a 3-2 advantage early in the third on a Kevin Bieksa goal.
Frolik’s game-tying penalty shot came as Bieksa interfered with Frolik’s progress as both raced towards Schneider. On the penalty shot, Frolik subsequently dumped the puck to Schnieder’s right as the Canucks goalie reached to defend.
He was down on the ice for a couple of minutes and then gingerly skated off with assistance.
Schneider gave up three goals while making 17 saves during his 42-plus minutes in the net.
The Canucks, who were eliminated by the Blackhawks in 2009 and 2010, hope to return the favour on Tuesday.
“You build on the way we finished the second half of the game,” Luongo said. “I think we played really well, probably the best hockey of the series so far. Obviously we’re disappointed we lost, but we can come into the next game on a positive note saying that we played pretty well.”