VANCOUVER – Roberto Luongo was dissecting a start he didn't expect and another shutout for a team he thought he'd never play for again after last season when he spotted a Toronto reporter in the crowd gathered three deep around his locker stall.
"Are you scouting for the Leafs, or what's going on here?" Luongo asked with a smile shortly after making 24 saves in a 3-0 win against the injury-depleted Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday night.
When it comes to Canucks goaltending, Luongo's second question is a good one.
After losing the No.1 job to Cory Schneider just three games into the Stanley Cup Playoffs last spring, Luongo figured he was finished in Vancouver, agreeing publicly to waive his no-trade clause to clear the path for his good friend to take over in the Canucks' net.
Even after that trade failed to materialize and Luongo returned, he never expected to be back where he was Wednesday night, starting a second-straight game ahead of Schneider and making 24 saves to build on his franchise records for wins (225) and shutouts (33).
"First and foremost, it's nice to get the win," said Luongo, who lost his first two in shootouts. "I really wanted to get a win for the guys."
The question now is whether he'll get a chance to build on it against rival Chicago on Friday. Coach Alain Vigneault said he'd announce his starter Thursday. Luongo couldn't remember the last time he didn't get to follow up a shutout, but insisted he isn't worried about it.
"I just get ready to play," Luongo said. "Whatever the decision is, it will be fine. I want to be ready. Whoever starts Friday is good."
Most expected Schneider, who has played well since getting pulled on opening night, to be back in goal Wednesday despite Luongo playing well in a 3-2 shootout loss in Los Angeles on Monday. Instead Luongo, a notorious slow starter, got a chance to build some momentum.
After a lucky break in the opening minute, Luongo did just that.
He made his best save on a shorthanded Matt Duchene breakaway early in the third period to keep Vancouver up by two – a big save for a team that has already blown three two-goal leads this season.
"If they score, it's a different game," Vigneault said. "That's the type of save you need in a game to win and that's what he gave us tonight."
He also got Jason Garrison's first goal as a Canuck, and fourth-line center Maxim Lapierre's first of the season before Zack Kassian rounded out the scoring with his fifth on a power play, moving Vancouver above .500 for the first time this season (3-2-2).
Still, most of the post-game questions focused on goaltending.
"I understand why this is an issue outside our dressing room," Vigneault said. "We've got two goaltenders that want to play 60 games in a 48-game schedule. I get it. But at the end of the day, they are both quality individuals, they are both team guys and they will do what I say and they will never complain."
The Avalanche have plenty to complain about after dropping a third-straight game and falling to 0-4 on the road this season, especially when it comes to health. Captain Gabriel Landeskog (head/leg) missed a second game after taking a big hit in San Jose last Saturday, and Colorado is also missing other top-six forwards Steve Downie (knee) and Ryan O'Reilly (contract holdout).
That doesn't help a power play that had a great chance to get back in the game, but didn't manage a shot during an 85-second 5-on-3 advantage late in the period. Colorado failed on four chances overall, and fell to 1-for-19 on the power play this season.
"We're struggling to score goals obviously right now," Avs coach Joe Sacco said. "I thought we stuck with it, we worked hard, the guys really played hard tonight. I can't fault their effort at all. The 5-on-3 was a key part of the game. We didn't generate any chances."
Some of their best came in the first five minutes. Luongo, though, was good – and lucky – when his team was outplayed early.
Jan Hejda's point shot trickled through him and towards the goal line in the opening minute, but as Luongo spun back to cover it, the puck hit the knob on the end of his stick and straight into the crease. Jamie McGinn fired it right into the back of the sprawled goaltender.
"That was pure luck," Luongo said.
There was nothing lucky about his save on John Mitchell in the slot with 1:06 left to play to preserve his 61st career shutout – second only to New Jersey's Martin Brodeur on the active list and 16th all-time.
Despite that resume, Luongo didn't sound concerned that he might be back on the bench wearing a ball cap on Friday night.
"I'm playing hockey in the NHL," he said. "I consider myself lucky."
Garrison considers himself lucky to be playing for the team he grew up cheering, even if the six-year, $27.6-million free agent contract he signed last summer after scoring 16 goals in Florida the year before comes with additional pressure. He eased some of it by opening the scoring on Vancouver's first shot 7:34 into the period, blasting a loose puck at the blue line through the legs of Semyon Varlamov.
‘It was just nice to get it, and nice to get it at home," Garrison said.
Lapierre doubled the lead with 4:48 left in the second period with a 2-on-1 shot through also through Varlamov's legs, and Kassian tapped in a perfect cross-ice pass on the power play from Dan Hamhuis five minutes after Luongo turned aside Duchene's breakaway.
"We didn't want to sit back," said Kassian, who has scored in five of six games since moving to the top line with Daniel and Henrik Sedin – one more than he managed in 44 career NHL games with Vancouver and Buffalo before this season. "You can't do too much to screw that pass [from Hamhuis] up, except tap it in the back of the net."
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