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In the zone

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Who knew Roberto Luongo had another gear?

The Canucks captain was as masterful as he’s been all season in the second game of the Western Conference Quarter Final against the St. Louis Blues stopping all 30 shots he faced in a 3-0 Canucks win.

Vancouver now leads the best-of-seven series 2-0, it’s the first time the Canucks have been up by two games to open a series since 2002 when they lost in six to the Detroit Red Wings.

Blowing the lead and relinquishing the series isn’t in the plans this time around and if Luongo keeps stringing together such impressive outings, this series will be over in a flash.

Luongo has allowed only one goal this series and two in his last five contests, three of which were shutouts.

In back-to-back blankings of the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche to polish off the regular season, Luongo stopped a combined 44 shots.

He was impressive, but those shutouts simply added notches to his career stats page. This donut was a mind boggler, a real peach, a first career playoff shutout to be proud of.

The Vancouver netminder was in the zone all game, his happy place if you will, and that’s when he’s at his best.

“You definitely feel like you see the puck more and sometimes you don’t see it and it hits you,” Luongo said.

“When things are going like that you just try to take advantage as much as you can.”

The Canucks did just that in capitalizing on Luongo’s show stopping play with three goals, but before Vancouver had a stranglehold on this game it was all Luongo, all the time.

After stopping seven shots in the opening period, Luongo made nine in the second including a pair that sent the fanatical towel waving crowd at GM Place into a frenzy.

On a St. Louis power play with just over nine minutes to play, Brad Boyes threw a puck on goal that Andy McDonald redirected from in front.

Luongo got his left pad down in the nick of time, but he couldn’t control the rebound as it popped out to David Backes. His one-timer from a hair outside the goalmouth was just another brick in Luongo’s wall.

Luongo had 16 saves through 40 minutes and he added another 14 in the third period. None were bigger than another power play stop on McDonald, this time from point blank range.

“He’s found his A-game and that’s what we need,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “That was probably one of his best games of the year.”

“Sick,” said Alex Burrows describing Luongo’s play. “I think unbelievable, so many great saves, especially in the first and second really kept us in.”

While Vancouver relied on its all-star netminder, the Canucks as a team also performed much better than in Game 1, especially physically.

The home side came out hitting in the opening minutes to set the tone for a heated contest; there were 55 hits dished out when the dust settled at the end of the game as the Blues answered right back.

“I don’t know if they wanted to intimidate us, but they definitely wanted to play more physical and they got in on the forecheck and they bumped us around a little bit more,” said Kevin Bieksa.

The intensity of the game spilled over after the final horn as sticks and gloves were riddled all over the Vancouver end of the rink.

The Canucks had their minds set on getting a body on the Blues early and often and clearly they were successful at doing so.

“The more they’re frustrated, the more they’re not thinking about what they have to do,” said Rick Rypien. “But at the same time we have to stay focused on what we’re doing out there and not let them get to us either.”

This series now shifts to St. Louis for games 3 and 4, which go down Sunday and Tuesday, and Vancouver likes the situation its in.

Teams who take a 2-0 lead win the series 87 per cent of the time.

“We’re excited to go in up two games and that’s the kind of position we wanted to put ourselves in,” said Bieksa.

“We understand they’re a lot better team at home, we understand they have passionate fans so it’ll be a hostile environment, but we’ll rally together and try to get one out of there.”

For the first 38 minutes of this game the Canucks couldn't get anything past St. Louis' Chris Mason. Shot after shot after shot were turned aside and when Vancouver did have the goaltender confused or out of position, the puck luck wasn't there.

Luckily the Canucks kept on chugging along and on their 18th shot, Mats Sundin scored the game-winner.

Vancouver needs to continue playing with that determination up front, especially with Mason playing as well as he is.

Daniel and Henrik Sedin were once again forces to be reckoned with combining for four points (1-3-4).

Roberto Luongo deserves a mountain of credit for his 30 save performance, but the defence helped keep the lanes clear and the front of the net vacant so that he could see the puck.

For the second straight game the majority of shots Lui faced were from the outside and it's nearly impossible to beat him from the blueline when he's in the zone.

It's a good news, bad news situation for the Canucks as they were great on the penalty kill once again, but also lowsy on the power play.

Both teams finished 0-for-4 on the man advantage, Vancouver just needs to get more pucks to the net, especially from point men like Sami Salo.

30 – Saves for Roberto Luongo; 14 in the third period alone

1 Career playoff shutout for Luongo

4 – Points between Daniel and Henrik Sedin (1-3-4)

– Per cent of the time a team up 2-0 wins the series

103 The decibel level at GM Place when the Canucks came out for the second period

“It was a tough first period, a lot of emotion and the fans were right into it. It was nice that Mats got that first goal for us and we were able to get it done."

-Alex Burrows

“Anytime the building is loud and energized it’s always exciting to play and makes it more fun. It brings your adrenaline up a notch or two.”

-Roberto Luongo

"We understand they’re a lot better team at’ll be a hostile environment but we’ll rally together and try to get one out of there."

-Kevin Bieksa

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