Luongo, seeing his first action in nearly a week, stopped 32 shots to back the Vancouver Canucks to a 2-0 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals Wednesday night at Rogers Arena.
In three home playoff losses versus the Blackhawks last season, Luongo allowed 16 goals. He made up for that in spectacular fashion on this night with one of his best post-season games to date, one that led Vancouver to an opening series win for the third time in as many years against Chicago.
Like a movie with solid action while the opening credits are still rolling, Luongo made some spectacular saves early on making it clear he was on his game.
The second career playoff shuout of Luongo’s career began with seven first period stops for the Canucks goaltender and one in particular will be the topic of water cooler chatter throughout the playoffs.
With Vancouver leading 2-0 off goals from Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen, Chicago defenceman Brian Campbell took a cross-ice pass from Patrick Kane and snapped a sizzling one-timer on goal from 15-feet outside Luongo’s crease.
Campbell pumped his right fist slightly and Kane raised his stick in his left hand and popped his mouth guard out into his right, both players ready for a goal celebration that never materialized.
Luongo stretched his right leg into the open cage to stop the puck and knock it into the post before he covered it.
“That’s why Lu wears size 15, to make those kinds of saves,” laughed Alex Burrows.
“Those are huge saves, especially at this time of year," added Burrows. "We felt it on the bench that it was going to be one of those nights that he was going to stop everything and he’s been playing great all year for us so we’re not surprised he had this type of game tonight.”
Size 15, is that accurate?
“Yes,” smirked Luongo, “and thank god for that or else that would have been in.”
The puck stayed out and the Canucks stayed in control to end the first period ahead on the scoreboard 2-0, in front in shots 13-7, and more importantly, leading in hits 20-9.
Getting to the body early and often, especially against Chicago’s rugged defencemen, was a goal for Vancouver; the Canucks finished the game with 47 hits, 26 more than their regular season average.
The Blackhawks roared back in the second period thanks to the flashy play of their top line, but when the Canucks bent, Luongo was there. And there. And there. He was everywhere.
“You need saves sometimes to keep the momentum in games and he made some key ones tonight and he’s done that all year for us,” said Henrik Sedin, still in awe on Luongo’s stop on Campbell.
“That’s huge for us, the toe save in the first there is an unbelievable save and it lifts the bench. It’s fun to watch.”
Luongo, not a fan of shutouts in the regular season, balked when asked if the donut meant anything to him. He had already moved on to the next game, which will play out Friday night at Rogers Arena, with the Canucks hoping to win Game 2 for the first time in the last three playoff series’ against the Blackhawks.
“It’s nice to get the win, but we know it’s a long series so we’re not going to get ahead of ourselves. We’ve got a big game coming up and we know they’re going to be ready to play.”
Jannik Hansen doesn’t often score goals you would describe as pretty.
Hansen doesn’t often score goals. Period.
The third line grinder sure put on a show with his second career playoff goal, however, a strike midway through the first period that put the Canucks in front 2-0 to provide some breathing room.
With Vancouver hemmed in its zone, Ryan Kesler blocked a shot and Mikael Samuelsson poked the puck out of the zone. Out of nowhere, Hansen had the puck on his stick and had a clear lane to the net.
Hansen turned on the jets to avoid a check from Marian Hossa before roofing the puck on Corey Crawford.
”Nice to see this one go in,” said Hansen, who skated with Mason Raymond and Cody Hodgson in Game 1.
”I was kind of waiting to see what he was going to do first and was fortunate enough for it to go in afterwards.”
Hansen finished the night a plus-1 in 11:59 of ice time with four shots, five hits and two takeaways.
Luongo’s shutout was Vancouver’s first in the post-season since April 17, 2009 in a 3-0 win over the St. Louis Blues; this is the fifth time Vancouver and Chicago have met in the playoffs, but just the first opening round matchup; the Canucks have 15 players remaining from last year’s six-game series against the Blackhawks, while Chicago boasts 13.