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Back in the Groove

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
The night didn’t begin how Roberto Luongo had envisioned. But it sure ended that way.

Luongo made 26 saves and was phenomenal in the third period and shootout as his Vancouver Canucks rallied to knock off the St. Louis Blues 3-2 at General Motors Place.

After giving up two goals he’d like to have back in the game’s opening 21 minutes, Luongo shut the door the rest of the way. “When the game is on the line, Roberto does what he does best,” said Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. “He kept us in, put his best game on the ice, and gave us a chance to come back and gave us a chance to win.”

Added Vigneault, “That’s the Roberto that we all know and love.”

But that isn’t the Roberto we had seen the last six games. Over that stretch, Luongo was 1-4-1 and posted a 2.97 GAA and .898 save percentage.

And after D.J. King opened the scoring with a backhander from a bad angle, and Brad Boyes gave St. Louis a 2-1 lead with a wrister from the circle, Canucks fans might have been wondering what happened to the goaltender who was 14-3-3 during a stretch in November and December.

But then seemingly out of nowhere, Roberto found his game. And it became clear St. Louis wasn’t going to get another puck by him.

“I started feeling comfortable in the third period there,” said Luongo. “I made a couple of big saves and we got a big goal in the third to tie it up and we were able to preserve it.”

Luongo’s saves were more than big. And there were definitely more than a couple.

After Sami Salo was sent off for tripping early in the third, Roberto stymied the St. Louis powerplay, denying Lee Stempniak on a backhand attempt from deep in the slot.

Three minutes later, Luongo had to be even better to stop a Dan Hinote redirect from the lip of the crease. And just six minutes after that, Luongo made what would be his best save of the night.

He sprawled across with his left pad to thwart a Brad Boyes rebound attempt. Boyes thought he had the entire net to shoot at. He was wrong. Roberto kept the puck out.

The save brought gasps from the GM Place faithful and led to a cheer of “LUUUUU” that resonated throughout the building for ten seconds longer than usual.

Even members of the opposing team couldn’t help but be impressed with the performance.

“They have a phenomenal goaltender,” said Blues netminder Manny Legace. “He saved them in the third period. He made some unbelievable saves. It was pretty impressive to watch on my end.”

King echoed Legace’s sentiments.

“He’s a solid goalie out there,” said King. “We put a lot of shots onto him and challenged him and he did step up to the challenge, especially in the third period.”

But just when Vancouver looked to be guaranteed at least a single point, they ran into penalty trouble. Markus Naslund took a high-sticking penalty with four minutes to go. 85 seconds later, Sami Salo went off for flipping the puck over the glass.

But Luongo held his team in it, making a shoulder save on Keith Tkachuk from point-blank range to save the Canucks from a deflating loss.

With overtime solving nothing, the teams headed to a shootout.

Luongo was great again, turning aside Brad Boyes, Paul Kariya, and David Perron in succession. After Daniel Sedin gave Vancouver the lead, Luongo robbed Tkachuk one final time, getting the glove out to provide his team with two much needed points.

When asked after the game about his heroics and the impending all-star break, Luongo explained that it came at the wrong time. “Well I think the timing’s off, right now, just off of a big win we’d like to keep going,” said Luongo.

But what Roberto might not have considered is that the timing is on for the rest of the league. Because after Luongo’s performance on Wednesday, it’s safe to say, he’s baaaaack.

1 – Win for Vancouver on the season when trailing after two periods. The Canucks had been 0-17-1 heading into Wednesday night.

2 – Assists on the night for Henrik Sedin. Henrik’s 42 assists for the season put him just one behind league leaders Sidney Crosby and Marc Savard.

31 – Minutes of ice time for Mattias Ohlund to lead all skaters. In addition, Mattias not only scored both Vancouver goals, but he led the team in shots with four and blocked shots, also with four.

199 – Consecutive Canucks sellouts at General Motors Place.

It was another one of those nights where they made the opposing goaltender look like Terry Sawchuk. Vancouver badly outplayed St. Louis and had tons of chances but only rippled the mesh twice in regulation.

They had just five defensemen for the game’s final fifty-five minutes but managed to keep the Blues at bay for most of it. Aside from late in the third, the Vancouver defense wasn’t really tested because the play was largely in the St. Louis end.

The PP came through when the Canucks desperately needed it to, with Ohlund tying the game both late in the first period and early in the third. The PK gave one up, but was phenomenal late in the third period when Vancouver was down two men.
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