Six seasons ago, Roberto Luongo’s attitude would have been different.
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Now, the veteran goalie is attempting to take his new backup role in stride as the Vancouver Canucks prepare for Game 5 of their Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Los Angeles Kings.
Cory Schneider is expected to start in goal Sunday for the Canucks, down 3-1 in the series, while Luongo watches from the bench for the third straight game.
”I’m much better at (dealing with it) now than when I got here,” Luongo said Friday.
Schneider made 43 saves for Vancouver, first overall in the NHL in the regular season for the second straight season, in a 3-1 victory Wednesday night in Los Angeles.
Luongo is vowing not to be a distraction to the team, and will prepare as though he were starting in case he gets the call to go between the pipes at some point.
”I’m a competitor,” said Luongo, who backstopped Canada to a 2010 Olympic gold medal on the same Rogers Arena ice where Game 5 will be played. ”Obviously, you guys all know that, and it’s tough. But at the same time, this is about the team, and I’m not going to put myself ahead of the team. We’re in this together.”
Coach Alain Vigneault said his decision to go with Schneider in Game 4 was not cut-and-dried, but he had to do what he felt was best for the team that day.
The decision to replace Luongo with Schneider has prompted considerable speculation about Luongo’s future with the club. Luongo has a decade to go on his contract, and Schneider is due to become a restricted free agent this summer.
But the goaltenders and Vigneault said now is not the time to be debating future crease occupants.
”Roberto’s future is on Sunday,” Vigneault said. ”We’ve got to focus on Sunday. He’s no different than a quarterback who’s a hit (to another QB) away from going back in the game or Schneids taking a puck somewhere, etc. He’s got to focus on Sunday – like the rest of us.”
The Kings scored seven goals on Luongo in the first two games, while another goal was scored into an empty net, en route to 4-2 victories. Schneider allowed two goals in a loss and a win in Games 3 and 4.
The 26-year-old Massachusetts native who is in his second full season with the Canucks after three seasons in the minors, downplayed his elevation to playoff No. 1, noting he has just one postseason win on his record and Luongo had 15 last spring as the Canucks reached the Stanley Cup final.
Still, Schneider relishes the chance to start with the season on the line.
”There’s no doubt that the regular season’s nice, but everyone sort of proves their mettle in the playoffs,” he said. ”That’s where you can make your reputation and earn a spot on the team.”
Schneider started the sixth game of the Stanley Cup final in Boston last year, but said he has been better prepared for playoff duty this time. He appeared in a total of 33 games in the regular season after playing sparingly most of last season. He has played in the American Hockey League final as well as two NCAA finals with Boston College.
”Pressure is a little bit of a self-manifest,” Schneider said. ”It’s what you make of it.”
The Canucks are trying to become the fourth team – 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, 1975 New York Islanders and 2010 Philadelphia Flyers – to come back from a 3-0 deficit and win a series.
Because of two concerts at Rogers Arena, the Canucks have had to wait longer than usual to get another crack at the Kings. The series is in the midst of a three-day break between games.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter would prefer to have the usual one-day break, while Vigneault welcomed the extra time off.
”I see it in a different way,” he said. ”We’ve got a player that came back (from a concussion) for Game 4, Daniel Sedin, and this is going to give him a little bit more time to get his game where it can get to. He’s an elite player and, unfortunately, we didn’t have him at the start of this series.”
The Canucks are looking for more good things from Sedin after he had an assist on twin brother Henrik’s power-play goal and was on the ice for all three of Vancouver’s markers Wednesday. Daniel Sedin’s return helped revive the Canucks’ previously dormant power play that went 2 for 3 after Vancouver was blanked 14 times and allowed two short-handed goals in the first three games.