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Luongo's energized to play down the stretch

by Larry Wigge / Vancouver Canucks

At this point, when teams are jockeying into and out of playoff spots daily, you know there's going to be a game somewhere when a team settled in its spot decides to rest a key player or two for what it hopes will be a two-month playoff run to the Stanley Cup Final. You know the bubble team will cry foul, scream bloody murder.

And that's understandable.

I found it interesting the other day when I went back to Vancouver Canucks star goaltender Roberto Luongo for a follow-up question after the morning skate, a question I figured I knew the answer to, but I had to ask it anyway.

It went something like this: "Roberto, do you look at the time off you had when you were out for a month with groin problems a while back as a good thing? Now, you will be fresh and the playoffs, for the most part, look more like a sprint than a marathon."

At a time when we constantly read about how a team is looking to get its top players a rest, Luongo threw me a curveball.

"Not at all," Luongo said. "When you're winning, you stay energized. You don't look at the number of games you've played or getting a breather here or there. You want to be in there every night.

"Two years ago, I played a ton in the regular season ... and I was more than ready to go in the playoffs. You play all your career to perform in the playoffs, so there's no way you feel tired when the playoffs begin."

What? Worry about being tired? No way, according to Luongo.

That's the kind of refreshing frame of mind I think you'd hear from most players who live for hockey ... and live for the playoffs -- even if we in the media have built these myths that a player has to be ultra-fresh for the potential two-month run in the playoffs.

"I dreamed as a kid of playing in the NHL, playing in the playoffs and playing in an overtime game in the playoffs," Luongo continued, smiling from ear-to-ear. "And my first playoff game two years ago went four overtimes. What a rush! Extra pressure makes you want to thrive even more.

"I know one thing: I couldn't imagine losing that one."

You can feel the fire in his voice, can't you? The fight of a champion. The hunger to win. After playing in 76 regular-season games in 2006-07, including 17 of the last 18 games, Luongo was more than ready for his first taste of playoffs in the NHL. And now, he's ready for more.

Hey, I'm fresh. I know you're ready for the playoffs. And so too are the game's best players, who should never surprise us with the passion and competitive nature they bring to the rink with them every day.

Swede home in the playoffs -- Let's see now. We've seen Taylor Pyatt, Steve Bernier, Kyle Wellwood, Pavol Demitra and maybe someone else I've forgotten on left wing with Henrik and Daniel Sedin this season.

But the magic is better than it was a few years ago when Anson Carter looked so good with the twins, now that hard-charging, abrasive, formerly defensive specialist Alex Burrows has joined them.

In the most recent 10-game stretch, the trio had 18 goals and 39 points. And Henrik Sedin capped off a great month -- 7 goals and 12 assists in 15 games in March -- with an overtime winner in a 2-1 triumph in Minnesota on March 31.

"That line has been dominating for us," coach Alain Vigneault said after a 4-0 victory in Chicago on March 29. "Offensively, they've made some unbelievable plays. They've been our best players. You can't just watch one or two of them. Each one of them has been a threat."
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