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The dangling carrot

by Derek Jory / Vancouver Canucks
For as good as Roberto Luongo has been throughout his career, what with all the saves, shutouts and wins, the Stanley Cup playoffs have always been somewhat of a dangling carrot.

The nine-year-NHL veteran got a nibble two years ago in his first season with the Canucks when Vancouver outlasted the Dallas Stars in the first round before falling to the Anaheim Ducks in the Western Conference semi-final, but last year Luongo was back in familiar territory watching from the sideline.

When the Canucks hit the ice Wednesday night to host the St. Louis Blues in the first game of what should be an explosive series, Luongo will be back where one of the league’s elite tenders deserves to be – battling for a championship.

He’s a few years older, a few years wiser and a few years hungrier this time around and knowing firsthand how hard it is to crack a conference’s elite eight, Lui isn’t taking anything for granted.

“Half my career is done with and I haven’t even come close,” said Luongo in regards to winning the Cup.

“Time’s ticking and this year I feel that it’s our best chance so far and that’s really exciting for me and I’m looking forward to it.”

Twelve starts are all the post-season experience Luongo has to draw on this go-round, but that’s 12 more than he had two seasons ago and he faired just fine posting a minute 1.77 goals against average and stifling .942 save percentage.

It’s the flow of playoff hockey that he’s glad to have a feel for and knowing what he can expect should make for an even stingier Luongo, if that’s possible.

“The intensity is nothing that you’ve ever felt before so for me that’s the type of thing that I enjoy and I challenge myself to take my game to the next level because I find it so exciting to play in those types of games.

“Every game, every play, every shot is so important and any can change the game, so just the fact that you live on that fine line is exciting.”

Keep in mind that Luongo started 76 games before Vancouver’s playoff appearance in 2006-07 and his stats from that run become even more impressive.

What then should be made of the fact that the Canucks keeper started only 54 games this season, his lowest total since 2000-01 with the Florida Panthers?

If an exhausted Luongo can turn aside 62 shots in a 5-4 quadruple overtime win over the Stars, just imagine what a refreshed Lui can do.

Stamina will be on Luongo’s side throughout the playoffs, he’ll have it in spades like few others and that’s a good thing with the way he views the chase for the Cup.

“I just think it’s such a grueling process to get there and if you look at all the other sports, basketball’s not that demanding physically, football is but there’s not as many games.

“There’s so much tied into getting there that it’s probably the hardest trophy to win both physically and mentally.”

Staying sharp in both avenues is a pre-request to hoisting the Holy Grail and with the former checking out just fine, the latter is the only concern, if you could even call it that.

Many are wondering if Luongo can run with the baton of being Vancouver’s game saver and its captain, but if his personal preparations for the Blues are any indication, he’ll start the playoffs exactly the way he ended the regular season, a.k.a hot, hot, hot.

Luongo knows the St. Louis’ roster inside out and backwards, impressively enough, and while acknowledging this series will be anything but a walk in the park because of how hard working the Blues are, he’s confident in the information he gained on the opposing shooters during their four regular season meetings.

“A lot of the scouting is already in my mind as far as guys that I’ve played against during the number of years that I’ve been in the league, so I start with that in the bank and once we start playing, I just collect more information and the more the series goes along, the more I feel comfortable.”

Luongo and comfortable are two words that make Canucks fans salivate as there’s no bigger benefit to a playoff team than a goalie in the zone, especially when the puck stopper in question takes as much pleasure in thwarting the opposition over a seven game series as Luongo.

“I don’t know if I’d call it an advantage, but I do enjoy playing against the same guys and it kind of becomes like a mind game after a while.

"You know what they like to do and they analyze your game and they try to beat you a certain way and it just becomes kind of a mind game.”

Saves, shutouts and wins are all great, but Luongo is ready for more, much more. Now that he's caught up to that elusive carrot again, don’t be surprised if he takes a major bite out of it.

In full bloom
Series storylines
Playoff primer

  1 - Career trip to the post-season for Luongo

12 - Playoffs games played (5-7 record)

1.77 - Goals against average in 2006-07

- Save percentage in 2006-07

The towel wave
The best is yet to come
Classic playoff moment

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