VANCOUVER – A defiant Roberto Luongo answered his critics Friday.
“He was our best player,” Vancouver forward Ryan Kesler said. “He stood on his head and the saves he needed to make, he made.”
A Zen-like Luongo made 31 saves, looking completely at ease in his goal as Vancouver defeated Boston 1-0 to take a 3-2 lead in the Stanley Cup final.
The sometime-maligned Canucks netminder even fired a broadside at Tim Thomas, after his Boston rival was punished for his roaming, gambling style on the game’s lone goal.
Maxim Lapierre pounced on a puck after a bounce off the end boards and banked it in off the Boston goalie in the third period.
“It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint,” said Luongo, “so it’s an easy save for me. But if you’re wandering out and aggressive like he does, that’s going to happen.
“So he might make some saves that I won’t but in cases like that, we want to take advantages of bounces like that and make sure that we’re in good position to bury those “
Luongo had a miserable time in the previous two games in Boston. He was pulled from Game 4 and some wondered why he wasn’t replaced in Game 3.
Luongo said he doesn’t worry about such scrutiny.
“The only people I have to prove things (to) is myself, my teammates and my family and friends. That’s who I play for. I play the game because I love it and I want to win a Stanley Cup.
“That’s the only motivation I need right now. I don’t really try to block everything else out. Even though sometimes it’s hard to do in a city like this, you can’t let those things affect you because then they will affect your game.”
Still, an afternoon walk along Vancouver’s seawall apparently helped Luongo’s focus. He donned a hoodie, clamped in his headphones and went for a stroll.
“Sometimes I need to clear my head and put things in perspective.” he explained.
“I don’t know if they have any seawalls in Boston but I’m going to look for one,” he added, drawing laughs.
He also did it before Game 7 against Chicago, as well as several times during the season.
It did the trick, although the Bruins faded on the night in the face of a determined Canucks side that riled up a towel-waving Rogers Arena with hits and hustle.
“Give credit to the goaltender,” Boston coach Claude Julien said of Luongo. “He played well tonight but we certainly didn’t make it as hard on him as we did the last two games at home.”
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said both goalies deserved praise Friday.
“It was a great hockey game. They weren’t giving up anything. And the puck got across the line by a couple of inches, that’s the game.”
Like their coach, the Canucks seemed confident their US$10-million goalie would deliver Friday.
“We expected it,” said defenceman Kevin Bieksa. “There was just something about him before the game where he looked so ready and so comfortable and so confident. He was vocal before the game in the room, and usually he’s not as vocal. So you knew that something good was going to happen.”
Added Henrik Sedin: “He’s a great goalie. We know every night he’s going to give us his best. There’s going to be some nights where the bounces are not going to be there—like in Boston where a couple of shots went off our sticks and it looks bad—but we were confident in him.”
On Friday, aided by a team looking to prove a point at home, Luongo was perfect.
“We never had any doubts in him and we played a lot better in front of him,” Sedin added.
Fans also backed the Canucks goalie, with signs like “Lou Gotta Believe.”