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Canucks Watch: Sanford's time to shine in Luongo's absence

Vancouver Canucks fans fear one thing and one thing only.

Unfortunately, that one thing has come to pass: Roberto Luongo is hurt.

The Canucks goalie/captain/savior is out with a groin strain. The scary thing is, it’s one of those nagging injuries that could keep him on the shelf for a week…or a month…or longer. Nobody knows, and if they do, they aren’t saying.

“I really don’t know how long it’s going to take,” said Luongo, who had an MRI on Monday.

According to the team, his status is “week to week.”

“This is a great challenge to our group,” said Alain Vigneault, offering up some coach-speak that roughly translates to “please please please please get better fast Roberto.”

Luongo, after all, is the team’s most valuable player and gives Vancouver its best chance to win night after night.

With all due respect to journeyman Curtis Sanford and just-called-up prospect Cory Schneider, neither one is close to Luongo’s caliber. (Few are, of course. But keep an eye on Schneider; the 26th overall draft pick in 2004 was rated third among Vancouver’s kids and 75th among all NHL prospects in THN’s Future Watch 2008).

Even if he changed his name to Curtis-erto Sandford-ongo, no one would mistake the Canucks backup for his all-world crease-mate. Sanford has been serviceable since arriving at the start of last season; at age 29, though, he isn’t the franchise’s goalie of the future.

However, the reality is, Sanford is the franchise’s goalie of the present. For the first time in his NHL career, he’s going to get a number of successive starts on a team with playoff aspirations. And if the Canucks are going to make it into the post-season – or even remain in contention – they have to stay competitive for the three or four or five weeks that Luongo is sidelined.

Thus far, the early returns have been promising. Sanford won Vancouver’s first three Luongo-less games, allowing a total of just five goals against Detroit, Pittsburgh and Minnesota.

His 2.33 goals-against average and .919 save percentage might not quite match Luongo’s numbers (2.17, .928), but they’re pretty darn close. And if Sanford can keep the Canucks close until Luongo returns, well, that would be a kick save and a beauty.

This column also appears in the Vancouver Metro newspaper.

Sam McCaig’s From The Point column appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Have a point to make with Sam McCaig? You can reach him at smccaig@thehockeynews.com.

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