Lack to start for Canucks in Heritage Classic

By Kevin Woodley - Correspondent

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Lack to start for Canucks in Heritage Classic
Eddie Lack, rather than Roberto Luongo, will start in goal Sunday for the Vancouver Canucks against the Ottawa Senators in the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Loungo circled the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic at BC Place on his calendar as soon as the schedule was released.

"I've always wanted to play in an outdoor game," Luongo said after practicing in the retractable roof stadium Saturday. "So I was excited when I saw we got one this year and I was looking forward to it."

Luongo's outdoor experience will be limited to the bench.

The Canucks announced Sunday morning that rookie backup Eddie Lack will make a third straight start ahead of Luongo when the Canucks play the Ottawa Senators on Sunday (4 p.m. ET, CBC, RDS, NBCSN).

"Lack has played really well the last two games and deserves the start [Sunday]," Canucks coach John Tortorella told the team's website.

Another start for Lack puts the Canucks right back where they were before surprising everyone by keeping Luongo and trading Cory Schneider at the 2014 NHL Draft.

"I don't want to start going through this again," Luongo said Saturday. "When I am on the ice I give myself 100 percent, I try to be the best I can be and the rest is out of my control so I am not going to start putting myself in a spot like that again. Whatever happens from here on in, I am just going to battle, and if it's me, it's me. If it's not, it's not."

There may be several reasons Tortorella opted for Lack rather than Luongo on Sunday.

Vancouver is battling to stay in the Western Conference race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canucks are in a three-way tie with the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets with 66 points, but the Stars hold the final wild-card spot because they have played two fewer games.

Lack is coming off a 1-0 win against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday and a 2-1 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Friday in which he stopped the first six shooters in the tiebreaker.

Playing outside would be nothing new for Lack. He grew up practicing outdoors in Sweden and hasn't had any problems adjusting to BC Place.

"As a goalie, you like it when you can slide side-to-side and I felt like I had a great edge out there too, almost better than inside," he said after practice on the BC Place ice Saturday.

Luongo liked the ice too, and had no problems tracking the puck even with so much extra space between the rink and the stands than he is used to. Unlike Lack, however, he hasn't played much lately.

Luongo is coming off the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where he played once for Canada, shutting out Austria, before watching Carey Price lead Canada to a gold medal as the backup. Luongo hasn't played in an NHL game since Feb. 8 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, a 3-1 loss that extended the Canucks' losing streak to seven games. Luongo said Saturday it has taken a while to feel good after coming back from Sochi.

"It has been tough with the time adjustment. I haven't been feeling super energized, but the last couple of days I have been back to normal," said Luongo, who didn't get any goalie-specific practice at the Olympics and has been putting in extra time with Canucks goalie coach Roland Melanson this week. "It's always a work in progress when you are working on your game. You always feel like you can be better and there is stuff you need to improve. The only way you can see whether you are ready or not is to play a game."

Having Lack start the Heritage Classic undoubtedly will have some wondering if Luongo has played his last game for the Canucks. But if Luongo learned anything over the past two seasons, it's that a 12-year, $64 million contract that runs through 2021-22 isn't easy to trade.

Luongo, 34, said it was time to move on after Schneider started the final three games of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and again when Schneider got the call after two games of the 2013 postseason. When the Canucks couldn't find a taker, they traded Schneider instead, to the New Jersey Devils.

Now it feels like déjà vu with Lack, a 26-year-old who is 9-8-4 with a .925 save percentage and 2.05 goals-against average in his first NHL season. He had major hip surgery last spring.

"If I would be the guy, of course it would be a tremendous honor to play one of these games with 50,000 fans in the stands," Lack said Saturday. "If I get the nod I am going to go out there and play my game."

That game is somewhat reminiscent of Henrik Lundqvist with the New York Rangers, relying on deeper positioning to shorten and simplify his movements, but with a big 6-foot-4 frame to take away space.

Tortorella wouldn't comment on his goaltenders after practice Saturday but had said earlier in the week Lack's game "settles the team down" and "there's not a lot of extra motion."

That simple style might work well in an outdoor game, which can often produce a simpler, puck-to-the-net style of attack.

Lack admitted he was a bit overwhelmed walking into BC Place for the first time, and he knows how important the game is.

"I've never been in here before, so from the first time I walked in it was like 'Oh my God, this is going to be so cool,'" he said. "It's a crucial stage right now for us and even though it's fun out there, we really need to focus on getting two points and some traction."


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