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Best Player in the NHL

by Sunny Dhillon / Vancouver Canucks
You couldn't help but feel that it should have gone differently for Roberto Luongo Saturday night.

With Sidney Crosby hogging all the attention before the puck drop, the stage was set for Bobby Lou to swoop in and steal the show in front of a national audience.

For much of the night, Luongo did just that, falling agonizingly short on the final shot of the game.

Luongo made 31 saves, including a beauty on a Crosby penalty shot in overtime, as his Vancouver Canucks lost 2-1 in a shootout to the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins.

Coach Alain Vigneault was left wishing his team could have pulled out the win for their deserving goaltender.

"For me the only disappointing thing of this game is the way Louie played, that we couldn't find a way to score in the shootout," said Vigneault. "He was phenomenal - had a penalty shot in overtime, the top player in the league, it doesn't get much better than that and the goalie makes the save. You'd think the stars would have been a little more aligned there, we could have been able to give him a win, but we didn't."

The opposing coach was just as congratulatory of Luongo's play.

"Luongo was outstanding tonight," said Michel Therrien. "I thought again tonight we got out of the gate really hard and we got some chances and if it was not for Luongo, we could have had a two, three goal lead."

All the hype that preceded this game left the Vancouver goaltender especially disappointed in the result. After Kris Letang scored the shootout winner, Luongo fired the puck into the boards before quickly skating off the ice. Roberto also declined to speak with reporters after the game.

Fortunately, his play said more than enough.

On a night when his teammates couldn't find their legs for the opening forty minutes, Luongo kept Vancouver in it, turning Pittsburgh away time and again.

He got started early, charging out of the net less than two minutes in to stop an Erik Christensen wrister from the circle.

Just a few minutes later, Luongo stifled Christensen again, kicking out the right pad to stop a one-timer, before getting back into position to stop an Evgeni Malkin rebound.

Before the first period was complete, Luongo had robbed Petr Sykora with the glove from just outside the crease and stoned Georges Laraque on a bang-bang play from deep in the slot.

The second period was much the same, with Luongo going post-to-post to foil Ryan Malone seven minutes in, then making a number of saves from in tight to keep Vancouver alive.

Luongo only got stronger in the third, getting what must have been his right pinky toe out in the nick of time to stop a Malkin backhander late in the frame.

But it was overtime where Luongo made his boldest statement of the night.

After Aaron Miller hauled Crosby down on a breakaway and the Pittsburgh center was rewarded with a penalty shot, Luongo simply wouldn't let the game end.

With the crowd on its feet, Crosby skated into the Vancouver zone and went forehand, backhand, forehand before snapping the puck.

Luongo was sprawled on the ice by this point and threw his arms out in desperation, stopping the puck just before it crossed the goal line.

"He;s able to make saves that most of the times, other guys are going to [let] in," said Crosby. "I thought I had him."

That thought definitely put Sidney in the minority.

As the GM Place crowd chanted 'LOUUUUU!' you got the feeling that no one in the building expected that puck to go in. Luongo was going to make the save. Case closed.

As overtime ended and the shootout began, Roberto nobly kept his team in it. After giving up a goal to Christensen on the first attempt, Luongo shut the door on the next four snipers, turning aside Sykora, Crosby, again, Ruutu, and Malkin, respectively.

While Trevor Linden scored for Vancouver on its third attempt with a well-placed wrister, the other Canuck shooters struggled.

Ryan Kesler, Brendan Morrison, Markus Naslund, and Daniel Sedin all attempted to deke and all were turned away by Pittsburgh goaltender and ex-Canuck Dany Sabourin.

Taylor Pyatt was the only player aside from Linden to simply shoot the puck and nearly scored, with his snapper ringing loudly off the post.

It was then that Letang got his chance and buried it, pulling off a beautiful forehand deke and sliding the puck just past Luongo's outstretched glove.

Roberto did all he could on a night when his team simply didn't have it. It was almost fitting that the final shot was just out of his reach because he made impossible saves look like anything but for more than 65 minutes.

And with all the talk coming in centered around Crosby being the league's best player, Luongo reminded fans and media alike that any such discussion must start and end with #1.

0 - Points for Sidney Crosby. Sid finished with 21 minutes of ice time, was a -1, and had just one shot on goal. He also failed to score on two penalty shots, including one in overtime.

1 - Point for Evgeni Malkin, who, for the second consecutive game, was the best Penguin on the ice. Malkin looked dangerous all night, registering three shots and setting up Petr Sykora's first period tally.

5 - Minutes for fighting for Matt Cooke, who valiantly came to Alex Burrows' defense and dropped the gloves with Ryan Malone. Malone is five inches taller and 19 pounds heavier than Cooke.

27 - Minutes of ice time for Mattias Ohlund to lead all Canucks.

78 - Percent of the faceoffs Ryan Kesler took, he won (14-for-18).

There was no offense to speak of for most of the night. The Sedins and Naslund generated some chances but seemed to be off by just a hair. The Morrison line was practically invisible. Much will be made of Sabourin's 35 saves, but the Canucks really didn?t test him all that much.

We've seen this defense give up a lot of shots in the past but, generally, most of those come from the outside and Luongo handles them with ease. It was a different story tonight, as Luongo had to make at least a dozen good or great saves to keep his team in the game. The defense gave up 26 shots in the first two periods alone and was chasing for much of the night.

Vancouver came in with the league's 22nd best powerplay on home ice and it showed. While the PP had sustained pressure on multiple occasions, it generated few good scoring chances and finished 0-for-5. The PK was strong, especially early, when Crosby drew six minutes of penalties in six minutes.
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