VANCOUVER, B.C. – The Minnesota Wild became Roberto Luongo’s latest robbery victims Saturday night.
The masked Vancouver captain recorded his third straight shutout as the Canucks blanked the Wild 2-0 before a sellout crowd of 18,630 at General Motors Place. “I think it was his best performance yet,” said Vancouver centre Ryan Kesler. “He kept us in it.” The veteran goaltender made 29 saves as he extended his goalless string to 201 minutes and eight seconds. Luongo now has a league-leading five shutouts and is just one shy of the six he recorded all of last season.
But he has struggled against Minnesota, losing twice as often as he’s beaten the Wild since entering the NHL in 1999-2000. It was only his second shutout against Minnesota out of 43 in his career.
“Just because they’ve maybe had my number in the past doesn’t mean that trend has to continue,” said Luongo. “You just focus on your job and what you’ve gotta do and the rest takes care of itself.”
Sami Salo, in the first period, and Daniel Sedin, late in the third, took care of Vancouver’s scoring as the Canucks (9-6-0) posted the fifth win in their last six outings. Vancouver stymied a Minnesota club that has been steady on the road.
The Wild (8-4-1) suffered only its fourth regulation-time loss. Vancouver’s power play went one-for-five while Minnesota had three man-advantage opportunities.
“We made a few mistakes tonight, but our goaltender did a pretty good job,” said Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault.
Both clubs recorded 29 shots, but Minnesota had many more dangerous chances, especially during the second and third periods, when Luongo repeatedly frustrated Andrew Brunette and Pierre-Marc Bouchard.
“We didn’t adjust to the pace of the game,” said Brunette. “I thought they came out hard, as they always do in here. We started taking over in the second and third.”
In the second period, Luongo was slow to get up when knocked on his back by Brunette. A trainer came out and massaged the goalie’s neck. No penalty was called on the play, which came moments after Luongo had foiled Brunette on a dangerous close-in chance.
“Somebody hit me from the side in my head, so I had a bit of a stinger in my neck here,” said Luongo. “It went away after a few minutes.”
“One thing about when Robert goes down, you know that he’s not faking or he’s trying not to get calls,” added Vigneault.
With two and a half minutes left in the second, Luongo denied Brunette on a breakaway. The Vancouver goaltender knelt and spun to stop the puck as Brunette crashed into his crease as Salo gave chase.
“I lost the puck and kind of felt it in my legs somewhere,” said Luongo. “I didn’t even know where the puck was, to be honest with you. So I got a bit lucky on that play.”
But Luongo’s finest moment came as he stopped four Minnesota chances in the final minute of the middle frame. He frustrated Bouchard by sliding all the way across the goalmouth to catch his one-timer off a three-way play.
“I guess they were throwing everything at the net and, a couple times, I was (making) a desperation play and luckily the guy wasn’t able to get (the puck) up,” said Luongo of the flurry of shots near the 40-minute buzzer.
Salo’s first goal of the season gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead during a power play 13:36 into the first period as he fired a slapshot from the point past Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom. The Vancouver defenceman was second-time lucky after he hit the post during an odd-man rush in the first six minutes of the game.
“It’s a good feeling to get the first one out of the way,” said Salo, adding he should have scored when on the earlier chance.
Sedin’s breakaway goal with 2:40 left in the game erased any doubt about the outcome.
“We had good chances to score goals,” said Minnesota goaltender Niklas Backstrom. “They earned the two points.”
Luongo last allowed a goal in the second period of a 3-2 loss Sunday to Detroit.
Notes: Injured Vancouver centre Pavol Demitra (ribs), who played for the Wild the previous two seasons, is expected to resume practising with the team Monday . . . Canucks rookie winger Jannik Hansen (groin) missed his fourth straight game but is also due back at practice Monday . . . Minnesota winger Marian Gaborik (lower body), defenceman Brent Burns (upper body), winger Owen Nolan (lower body) and defenceman Kurtis Foster (broken leg) remain out with injuries.