Shielding Roberto Luongo From Pressure of Rematch With Bruins Could Hurt Vancouver in Long Run


January 6, 2012

Shielding Roberto Luongo From Pressure of Rematch With Bruins Could Hurt Vancouver in Long RunCAMBRIDGE, Mass. — The Bruins won't have Roberto Luongo to kick around this time.

The Canucks netminder, in the second year of a 12-year, $64-million deal, will be getting the afternoon off when Vancouver visits the Garden on Saturday for this season's only rematch of last year's Stanley Cup Final.

Instead, the Bruins will face backup Cory Schneider. Ostensibly, it's a feel-good story about letting the local boy have a chance to play before the homefolks as Marblehead, Mass., native and Boston College product Schneider will get a long-awaited chance to start in Boston.

In reality, it's likely a lot more about the Canucks doing everything they can to make sure Luongo isn't subjected to another nightmare in his personal house of horrors.

In three games in Boston during last year's Final, Luongo gave up 15 goals on 66 shots in just under 112 minutes, good for an 8.04 GAA and a .773 save percentage. He was pulled in two of those starts and probably should have gotten the hook in Game 3 as well, when he was left in to give up eight goals.

You'd think that Luongo might just want to have a chance to earn a little redemption in the Canucks' first return to Boston, even while acknowledging that nothing that transpires on Saturday will change the outcome of last year's Final.

But no, Luongo isn't going to use his veteran clout to try to force his way into the lineup. He'll be the polite one once again, graciously stepping aside to let the local boy have his turn in the spotlight.  

"I would have liked to play the game, but in fairness to Cory, he's from here and he deserves to play this game," Luongo said after the Canucks practice Friday at Harvard University.

"We didn't talk about it until after the Minny game [on Thursday]," Luongo added. "I knew it could have gone either way. At the end of the day the win is what matters the most. Cory's from here and we don't get a chance to come here too often, so it's a good opportunity for him to play in front of his family and friends."

Just as he did for Bruins netminder Tim Thomas last spring, Luongo was more than willing to pump Schneider's tires a bit heading into the huge showdown.

"Cory's been doing a fabulous job since last year, since he's been here," Luongo said. "Whether he's been playing more or if he hasn't played in weeks, he comes in and does an unbelievable job for us. I don't expect things to be any different [Saturday]. I'm sure he's excited about playing in hometown and he's going to give us a chance to win."

And that, sadly for the Canucks, is probably true. While the Bruins set up camp inside Luongo's head last year, Schneider shut the door in his two relief appearances. He allowed just two goals on 41 saves for a 1.83 GAA and a .951 save percentage in 66 minutes in the Final, and has been solid again this year with an 8-5-0 record, 2.16 GAA and .931 save percentage.

"We've got two goaltenders here that we've got confidence in," Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault said. "Every game, we've played 41 so far, you could make a case to play one or the other, and in this instance I decided Cory is going to be the goaltender."

Vigneault just wouldn't elaborate on his reasons for making Schneider his goaltender on Saturday.

"In this case here, you could make a case that Louie would want to get back at it," Vigneault said. "You could make a case for Schneids finally after five years getting a chance to play in front of friends and family. At the end of the day, the decision is mine and I'll keep my final reasons to myself."

The Canucks denied that they were trying to protect Luongo's fragile psyche by keeping him away from a Bruins team that has been torching every goalie in the league like, well, like they were playing against Luongo every night. Boston leads the NHL with 135 goals (3.65 a game) and has scored 15 unanswered in its last two games.

"They're just deep," Schneider said. "It seems like all four lines score. Every guy can shoot the puck and shoot with purpose. They're big and physical, but they have a lot of skill and finesse. It seems like they've just been steamrolling over a lot of teams lately. We're just going to have to be ready. I think they're good at getting quick strikes, a lot of goals in a short amount of time. So if they do get one, I think we have to bear down to make sure they don't get another one to put it out of hand."

Putting Luongo back in to face that onslaught probably wouldn't keep things from getting out of hand for long, despite the defense the Canucks offered for their supposed franchise netminder.

"I don't think we ever have to hide Lou," Schneider said. "The guy's an amazing goalie. He's been one of the best goalies over the past month or six weeks, so I don't think you ever hide a guy like that. I think it's just a nice gesture by coach to give me a game at home in front of my friends and family. Of course Lou wants to play this game. He wants to play every game, and especially a game like this. I think he'd be looking more forward to it to get some redemption or maybe prove some people wrong, but I'm just going to have to fill in [Saturday]."

After a shaky start to the season, Luongo has played well of late. He went 9-3-1 with a 2.04 GAA and .928 save percentage in December, and is 1-0-1 with an 0.96 GAA and .968 save percentage so far in January. He's coming off a 28-save shutout of the Wild on Thursday.

That should make going with your No. 1 goalie against the hottest team in the league a no-brainer. But the Canucks don't have the confidence in Luongo to do that.

Playing Schneider may give them a better chance to win on Saturday, but not being able to trust Luongo in such a situation shows that the Canucks still have a long way to go to prove that they have what it takes to win a championship.

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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