It seemed a near certainty Roberto Luongo had played his final
game in a Vancouver Canucks sweater after Cory Schneider supplanted
him as the team’s No. 1 goaltender during last season’s
Now, he’s proving to be an asset.
Luongo will make his third straight start Friday night as
Vancouver hosts the rival Chicago Blackhawks, who have earned 13 of
a possible 14 points to start the season.
Canucks general manager Mike Gillis has made no secret he’s
actively shopping Luongo, who entered 2013 as Schneider’s backup
after posting his fewest wins (31) since 2003-04. Luongo also gave
way to Schneider after dropping the first two games of a
first-round playoff loss to eighth-seeded Los Angeles.
Schneider started four of the team’s first five games this year,
posting a 3.13 goals-against average and being relieved by Luongo
in an opening-night loss to Anaheim.
Luongo has been solid, though, going 1-0-2 with a 1.61 GAA after
making 24 saves in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Colorado.
“You just take it for what it is,” Luongo said. “I’m playing
hockey in the NHL. I consider myself lucky.”
Coach Alain Vigneault has decided to ride out Luongo’s hot
streak, making clear that having two capable goaltenders is only a
positive for the Canucks (3-2-2).
“When I call on one to go in our net, I know he’s going to give
us the best chance to win and the other one is going to support
him,” Vigneault said.
Luongo has played a key role in the constantly developing
rivalry against Chicago and is 2-0-1 with a 1.60 GAA in his last
three starts in the series, including the postseason.
Last season ended a streak of three consecutive playoff
meetings, of which the Blackhawks won two before Vancouver’s
seven-game victory after nearly blowing a 3-0 series lead in
Things may get heated in this matchup. The last one, a 2-1
overtime win for the Blackhawks on March 21, led to Chicago
defenseman Duncan Keith’s five-game suspension for a hit that
caused Daniel Sedin to miss nine regular-season and three
postseason games with a concussion.
“We expect a playoff-type (atmosphere). It’s an important game
for everybody,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “When we go
there the building is alive and it will be an exciting game.”
The Blackhawks (6-0-1) set a franchise record by winning their
first six games before falling 3-2 in a shootout to Minnesota on
Wednesday to begin a six-game road trip.
Captain Jonathan Toews, who scored his fourth goal, said the hot
start will only benefit them in a shortened season.
“We’re on a long road trip right now and we can’t look too far
ahead,” Toews said. “We’ve put ourselves in a good spot and we’ve
got to make it even tougher for teams to catch us.”
One reason for Chicago’s success has been a penalty-killing unit
that has snuffed out 26 of opponents’ 27 chances with the man
The Blackhawks have killed off all 19 short-handed situations on
the road, while Vancouver has converted just 1 of 15 power-play
chances over its last three games.
“It’s been huge for us but, No. 1, we would like to stay out of
the box a little bit more,” Toews said. “If we happen to be going
to the box, then we’re confident if the game is on the line we can
get the job done.”
Corey Crawford has been solid in net with a 1.79 GAA after
making 23 saves Wednesday, though it’s unclear if he or backup Ray
Emery will get the nod Friday with Chicago playing the next night
Vancouver has won five of the last seven home meetings,
including the playoffs.