CHICAGO – Despite Roberto Luongo’s struggles in back-to-back playoff games, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault doesn’t feel a need to give his goaltender a pep talk.
“I’ve got total confidence in Roberto and the way he prepares and the type of person that he is,” Vigneault said following Saturday’s practice at Chicago’s United Center. “He’s a great goaltender. He’ll do what he has to do.”
Luongo is expected back in the net on Sunday as the Canucks and Blackhawks clash in Sunday’s crucial Game 6 of their Stanley Cup Western Conference quarter-finals.
After allowing five goals in the series’ first three games, Luongo surrendered 10 in the last two. He was pulled in both games, including a second period departure in favour of backup Cory Schneider in last Thursday’s 5-0 loss at Rogers Arena.
But for a relaxed Luongo, that’s all in the past.
“We’re up 3-2 in the series and we have a chance to close it out,” he said. “For myself, and I know for my teammates, we’re focused on tomorrow night and not what’s transpired in the last two games.”
Chicago rallied from the brink of elimination with a 7-2 victory last Tuesday at home followed by Thursday’s shutout win in Vancouver.
In both games, the Blackhawks exploited openings in the Canucks end as they jumped to early leads.
“We want to make sure there’s no real gaps between the forwards and the d-men, making sure that we’re tight on the ice and keeping them to the outside,” Luongo said. “If they’re going to put some traffic in front—which is normal—it’s going to be my job and see the puck.”
Blackhawks right-winger Patrick Kane said Luongo couldn’t be faulted for many of the recent goals.
“Pretty much every goal we score on him, you really can’t blame him on,” said Kane, who’s had a goal and three assists in the last two games. “Sometimes you get some breakdowns defensively. It’s kind of easy to blame the goalie. We just had some good plays and good shots.”
But with the tables turned and the Blackhawks with momentum, it’s now the Canucks under the gun entering Game 6.
“I’m sure they’re thinking,” Kane said. “Being up 3-0, they didn’t expect us to come back and (be) in this position. We’re on home ice and we’ve got the advantage.
“There’s a lot of pressure on them, there’s really none on us,” he added. “We’re just out there playing and sometimes you play better in those situations.”
But Chicago needs a victory to extend the series to Game 7 and Luongo said the pressure works both ways.
“It puts us on the same frame of mind as the other guys,” he said. “Maybe there was a bit of a comfort level at 3-0, but there’s no more room for mistakes. We want to make sure were playing as desperate as the other side and that’s going to be a key.”
For Vigneault, one key is to return to the confident style the Canucks exhibited early in the series.
“We also need to establish our strengths on the ice, which we didn’t do in Game 4 and Game 5,” he said. “(But) our guys are really aware of what we need to do, what we need to focus on to be successful and we’re going to try and bring it tomorrow night.”