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Luongo carries Canada’s hopes on his back

by Dan Rosen / Vancouver Canucks
Mike Babcock has to trust Roberto Luongo now. Team Canada's coach made the decision to throw the hometown goalie into the cauldron, and he can't go back on his word now that the temperature is rising.

Babcock believes Luongo has it in him to play the best game of his life in the biggest game of his life Wednesday against Russia. If he doesn't, Canada will probably be eliminated from a tournament it was expected to win.

Not that there's any pressure.

"Didn't he get (Canada) to a final in the World Cup?" Babcock said, referring to the 2004 World Cup of Hockey when Luongo won the semifinal game before giving way to Martin Brodeur, who won the final over Finland.

Luongo, playing for the injured Brodeur, made 37 saves in a 4-3 overtime win over the Czech Republic. Brodeur played the final and stopped 26 shots in a 3-2 win over Finland.

"I think it's very easy to say he didn't do this or he didn't do that," Babcock continued. "I think his bank account shows that he's a pretty good goalie. I know every time we (Detroit) play them he puts up this wall. I'm excited he's playing net for us."

Luongo, who made 21 saves in Tuesday's 8-2 win over Germany, doesn't have nearly the same big-game experience as Brodeur, but it's not as if he'll be in over his head either.

He backstopped Canada to gold medals at the 2003 and 2004 IIHF World Championships. That tournament may not be big in North America because it occurs during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but it's huge in Europe.

He also won a silver at the 1999 World Junior Championships.

"I have played a lot of big games on the international level and this ranks right up there," Luongo said. "Hopefully it's not the biggest one this week."

The opponent is familiar. Luongo remembers Alex Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Ilya Kovalchuk from his days in the Southeast Division with the Florida Panthers. He is also used to seeing Pavel Datsyuk because the Canucks play the Red Wings four times a year.

He expects an up-tempo, high-intensity game.

"I know it's going to be tight," Luongo said. "Those guys have a lot of skill players obviously, so we have to make sure we don't give them much time and space to make those plays.

"I have worked hard my whole career to come down to situations like this," he added. "I'm very appreciative. It's nice to see all the hard work paying off."

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