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Game Saver

by Kyle Harland / Vancouver Canucks
After Roberto Luongo's performance last season, he had some big expectations to live up to this year. So even though he had played quite well through the first 14 games, some people still demanded more.

Thursday night against the Flames, they got it, as he made 36 saves to thwart a Calgary comeback.

"Louie came up really big," said Alain Vigneault after the game. "He was one of the deciding factors in the game. He was better than their goaltender tonight."

The Canucks hardly needed Luongo in the first half of the game. Their new defense corps - including youngsters Alex Edler and Luc Bourdon - was stunning in the first period, allowing only four shots. In the second, they allowed ten, but few were dangerous. And after 40 minutes, the Canucks offense had put a 3-0 lead on the board.

It looked like Luongo was hardly going to need to work for the win. A save here, a save there, and he could call it a day. Maybe even if things kept going like they had in the first and second periods, he could even get a shutout.

But then came the third, and it wasn't a charm. The Canucks started the final frame short handed, and the Flames built their momentum from there. After playing two very disciplined periods, the Canucks took three more penalties in the first ten minutes of the third period.

Luongo had to be sharp, as 24 pucks were thrown at him in that period alone. That equaled Vancouver's shot total for the entire game.

Calgary managed to score twice on those 24 shots to come within a goal of the Canucks, but neither marker could be blamed on Luongo. Anders Eriksson completed a crisp passing play on one of Calgary's power plays, and Owen Nolan roofed a big rebound 33 seconds later that could have beaten a brick wall.

As for everything else, Luongo was solid, saving what could have been a disastrous third period implosion for the Canucks. The Canucks are perfect when leading after two this season (7-0-0), though didn't exactly play seamlessly with the 3-0 lead in the third against Calgary.

Luongo had his glove, blocker, and pads full with an offensively talented Flames team when they started to turn up the heat. Until tonight, Calgary was scoring an average of three goals per game, which was in the top third of the league.

Luongo main concern was Jarome Iginla, one of the NHL's top guns right now, with 22 points (23 after Thursday's game). Iginla led all players in shots Thursday night with seven, and a number of those shots came on the power play. Luongo stopped every one of them.

It would have been nice if Luongo didn't have to show off his stuff to save the game against the Flames, if the Canuck defense could have shut it down for one more period and let Luongo hit cruise control to get to his first shutout of the season.

But the fact that he did play such a strong third period should quiet any nay-sayers who have been concerned about Luongo's play. Even though he had an easy go of it for the first 40 minutes, he showed he could still make the saves that win games. Because let's face it: As well as the Canucks played the first two periods, Calgary, with their 24 third period shots, could have come back if there were an average goalie in net.

Luongo made sure to remind us that he's anything but average.

16 - Seconds between the Canucks' second and third goals

24 - Shots by the Flames in the third period

24 - Shots by the Canucks all game

412 - assists by Trevor Linden to take sole possession of number one on the Canucks' all time assists leaders list, one ahead of Stan Smyl

5 - Wins and zero losses for the Canucks against division rivals this year

In the first two periods of the game, the Canucks offense was good because their defense was good. They wouldn't let Calgary break out of their zone, and as a result they were able to spend a lot of time in the Flames' zone.

When the Canucks defense broke down in the third, the offense was non-existent.

Nearly perfect through the first two periods, but they allowed 24 shots in the third. Fortunately, Luongo, the last line of defense, was up to the challenge in the final 20 minutes.

There were a few power plays in the third period where the Flames had the Canuck killers scrambling, but they only converted once (thanks Roberto!).

The Canucks also scored one power play goal on five chances, but Calgary is third last in the league in penalty killing, so it would have been nice to pop another one past them with the man advantage.
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