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March Madness

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
Heading into Vancouver’s tilt with St. Louis Thursday night, Roberto Luongo had started 23 games since returning from injury on Jan. 15.

He lost five consecutive starts before winning 10 of 11 games in February, to start March Lui picked up three straight wins and led the Canucks to victory in six of eight contests.

In true Luongo style a slow start paved the way for some outstanding play, but still everyone in the hockey world questioned when Vancouver’s all-star netminder would firmly return to form.

If the mark of the true Lui is a shutout, then he proved he's back in a 3-0 win over St. Louis.

Luongo stopped all 30 shots fired his way for his sixth shutout of the season and Vancouver’s 11th straight home win; the donut was Lui’s first since a 2-0 blanking of the Minnesota Wild on Nov. 20.

A shutout was the last thing on anyone’s mind to start this game as the Blues painted Luongo with shot after shot after shot in the early going; according to the Canucks captain that simply helped him get his mojo working.

“That’s always been my trademark, getting a lot of shots early really gets me into the game,” said Luongo, who now sports a 27-9-6 record this season.

“I was feeling pretty good tonight and obviously we played a pretty well rounded defensive game.”

There are paltry 13 save shutouts and there are real shutouts, the kind you have to earn. This one was the latter and with the Canucks being outshot 18-4 midway through the second period, Lui earned every cheer sent his way early and continued standing on his head until the final horn.

His best save of the night came with just over 15 minutes left in the third period when T.J. Oshie got on his high horse and galloped into the Vancouver zone.

He carried the puck over the blueline on the left side before faking a backhand shot and swinging around the net looking for a wraparound goal.

Luongo sprawled across his crease, aka poetry in motion, as he jolted his left pad against the post to deny the sure goal.

“He’s been playing unbelievable for us, I think tonight he showed everybody that he’s the guy,” said Alex Burrows, the game’s first goal scorer who now has goals in seven of nine games this month.

“Roberto can steal games like that for you and when we weren’t getting our shots through in the first period, he was standing tall and making all the saves and more,” added Mason Raymond, who also scored.

Yes, Raymond found the back of the net. First Kyle Wellwood snapped a 21-game goalless drought last week in Anaheim, now this, Raymond’s first goal in 27 games and his first of 2009.

“That was just a huge sigh of relief for me and it feels really good,” said Raymond.

The speedster potted his 10th goal of the season at the 11:27 mark of the second period with the teams at 4-on-4.

Ryan Kesler eluded a check as he entered the Blues zone and displayed great patience drawing the defender on a 2-on-1 rush, that made for an easy chip-in goal for Raymond, who was on the doorstep waiting to one-time the puck past Chris Mason.

With his arms raised to the roof, Raymond took a deep breath and truly cherished the moment.

“It felt unbelievable, it felt like my first NHL goal all over again,” said Raymond.

“It’s been a long time and it’s been a battle and struggle here for quite a while with all the ups and downs you go through.

“I’ve been feeling great the last couple games and when you feel like that, it’s a great feeling. I’ve been on the opposite side of that fence for a long time and it’s the worst feeling.”

Henrik Sedin rounded out the scoring for Vancouver midway through the third with a perfect shot from in close on Mason after Daniel stole the puck behind the St. Louis net. The goal was a dandy, yet it wasn’t completely necessary with Lou in full form throughout the final period.

Luongo was deservingly named the game’s first star, but if it were up to coach Alain Vigneault, that wouldn’t have been the case.

“In my mind I think you guys should be first star, I mean you pissed him off and look how well he played tonight,” laughed Vigneault, in reference to the media making a big deal of a bad goal that snuck past Luongo two games ago.

Hopefully Luongo doesn’t read tomorrow’s papers as he's bound to be praised once again and the Canucks need their captain to remain in top form as the team hits the road for six games in 10 nights to close out March.

That shouldn’t be a problem as shutout or not, Luongo has been Luongo for a long while now and that isn’t about to change anytime soon.

1 – Goal for Mason Raymond, his first in 27 games and 10th of the seaon

30 Saves for Roberto Luongo, 10 in each period

6 – Shutouts for Luongo this season, he's tied for third in the NHL

11 – Consecutive home wins for the Canucks

500 NHL games coached for Alain Vigneault (235-200-65)

Rarely does Alain Vigneault have the option of rolling all four lines throughout an entire game, but he did on this night.

The top line had two goals, the second line had one, the third had a ton of chances and the fourth was as gritty as sandpaper.

This was a complete game for all of Vancouver's forwards, despite the slow start.

St. Louis outshot Vancouver 30-21.

The backend was really peppered with action throughout the first half of this game and the defenders and Luongo did a great job keeping St. Louis off the board.

The defence blocked four shots and Luongo stopped all 30 that hit him for his sixth shutout of the season.

Vancouver went 0-for-2 as the power play stumbled a bit, but the penalty kill picked up right where it left off last game.

The Canucks killed all five of St. Louis' power plays and only allowed six shots.
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