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Round 2
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Stanley Cup Final

Crisis of confidence has Luongo seeking answers

Thursday, 06.09.2011 / 6:20 PM / 2011 Stanley Cup Final - Canucks v Bruins

By Justin Goldman - NHL.com Correspondent

Justin Goldman is one of the preeminent goaltending experts on the Web. His site, www.thegoalieguild.com serves as a haven for those who share a passion for goaltending with a mission to enhance and advance knowledge of the goaltending position through a wide variety of interactive and in-depth scouting services. Here he talks about the mental battle both goalies are facing in this back-and-forth Stanley Cup Final.
 
Through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, fans were treated to a pair of goaltending clinics that barely tilted in the favor of Vancouver's Roberto Luongo.
 
With the fiery Canucks fans behind him at Rogers Arena, Luongo successfully built up a strong wall of confidence as Vancouver set their sails for Boston with a two-game lead in the best-of-7 series.
 
But Loungo's wall of confidence came crumbling down in a hurry upon touchdown in Boston.
 
He allowed 8 goals on 38 shots in a stunning and drama-filled Game 3 loss. The Bruins -- motivated by their fallen comrade and big-goal specialist Nathan Horton -- quickly chipped away at Luongo's positive psyche and re-captured the momentum heading into Wednesday's Game 4.
 
Similar to the questions Boston goalie Tim Thomas received from the media and fans after Game 2's blunder in overtime, Luongo now faced his own judgment day.
 
Did he need to change his style? What happened out there? Was he starting to get tired?
 
The questions only intensified after reports surfaced that Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault had given Luongo a chance to come out of the game after allowing the fifth goal of Game 3. Luongo refused, demanding to finish the job. He would admirably fight to the bitter end, but the Bruins made things worse by scoring three more goals in the final 2:21 of the game.
 
The final whistle of Game 3, though, was just the beginning of the battle for Luongo.
 
Suddenly, it was time for him to accomplish one of the toughest feats for a goaltender in the Stanley Cup Final -- bouncing back from a terrible game.
 
The rebound game, for a goalie, is one of the most important aspects of being mentally tough. It's a must-have skill for every goaltender, yet it's something that can't really be taught. It simply has to be learned through the course of time.
 
In order to successfully bounce back from a bad outing, a goaltender must fight extremely hard to remain confident.
 
There are many ways to do this, but most importantly, positive thoughts and messages must be internally reinforced on a constant basis. A goalie can't allow negativity to infiltrate his mind, and he must focus hard on preparing for the next game without second-guessing technique or skills.
 
The bigger the game, the tougher this task is to accomplish.
 
If a goalie is unable to clear the mind of all negative thoughts and worries, things can often go from bad to worse. And unfortunately in Game 4, that's exactly what happened to Luongo.
 
From the drop of the puck, I could see Luongo's body language was off. His legs looked heavy. Instead of exuding confidence, he appeared passive and complacent. It was not an easy start to Game 4 for either goaltender though, as choppy plays and missed chances forced both goalies to battle hard to track the puck and stay square.
 
As the first period continued, Luongo made a few key saves to keep the game even. But the little momentum he gained in the first 10 minutes was suddenly erased when Rich Peverley used an explosive first step to generate a breakaway. He cruised in, waited for Luongo to commit and then quickly slipped the puck five-hole.
 
So with the Bruins now up 1-0, Luongo's defeated demeanor slowly surfaced, becoming dominant. It forced him to battle even harder to track the puck, absorb shots and control rebounds.
 
Give Luongo some credit for making some nice stops, including a very strong reaction glove save late in the first period, but it simply wasn't enough against the hungrier Bruins.
 
On Peverley's goal, Luongo proved that solid technique is an extension of solid confidence. Without the poise and patience of a confident goalie, Luongo's technique appeared flawed. A strong mind is the source of a strong save.
 
In a game where there's simply no time to appear fragile, Luongo relinquished three more goals that proved he was not alert or attentive enough to bounce back. This is where things went wrong for Vancouver's leader -- he simply failed to play with the confidence he had in Games 1 and 2.
 
Throughout this series, I have enjoyed contrasting the differences between the styles of Thomas and Luongo. But any goalie coach will tell you that technique pales in comparison to mental toughness and confidence.
 
In Games 3 and 4, Thomas continued to play his usual aggressive and active style. Luongo, on the other hand, was too passive and struggled with his timing. Thomas was fully engaged in all four games, while Luongo seemed to be battling himself internally in Boston. Thomas attacked the puck and the enemy; Luongo seemed to wait for someone to beat him.
 
In a must-win game, especially during the Stanley Cup Final, it's not enough to just think you're confident. You also have to show it.
 
Luongo may have been mentally and physically prepared for Game 4, but his demeanor didn't reflect that on the ice. More importantly, his body language didn't instill any confidence in his teammates or his coach.
 
If Luongo fails once again to play with visible confidence in Friday's Game 5, he will quickly learn that home-ice advantage is a mirage when the rabid home crowd expects nothing short of perfection.
 
Ultimately, Luongo dug himself into a giant hole by lacking confidence in Games 3 and 4. Now, he's in a situation where it's going to be even tougher to dig himself out in time for Game 5.
 
It certainly will be an interesting process to watch Friday night and will, undoubtedly, be one of the main plot lines in a game that will put the losing team on the brink of elimination.

I've been getting frustrated lately, and the only thing keeping me sane was the team winning and other people stepping up and scoring. Then you just kind of let it go and realize you can end the series with one shot, that frustration goes away for a brief moment, and that's what happened.

— Montreal forward Max Pacioretty after scoring the series winner in Game 4 -- his first career playoff goal -- to eliminate the Lightning and send the Canadiens into the second round