– This one was shaping up as a shutout for Roberto Luongo
, and a brilliant one at that.
Instead, the ace backstop was left to ponder the difference between a series that was nearly set to cruise control, and the one that landed in his lap late Thursday — the one featuring a feisty opponent salivating to push his Vancouver Canucks
to the limit.
Any number of spectacular saves and sugary stops by the netminder had stymied the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks
in Game 4 — for 57 minutes, that is.
But with time running short, Hawks winger Martin Havlat
converted an uncharacteristic Canucks flub and flipped a shot past Luongo to knot the game at one.
"They got one break, and they scored with it," Luongo said. "Martin’s goal was a lucky break. He fanned on it, turned the puck over a little bit, and got it past me."
When the Hawks landed back in Chicago this week, flush with having pushed eight pucks past Luongo in the first two games in Vancouver, confidence was sky high. There was even talk of having "solved" Luongo with its barrage on the netminder in Game 2.
But then the puck dropped for Game 3 and any such talk was silenced. While the Hawks appeared to be more stonewalled by their own inept play and Vancouver’s staunch D as any mastery Luongo showed in a 3-1 loss on Tuesday, in Game 4 Chicago pretty well threw the kitchen-sink at the Canucks' captain, and it appeared he’d emerge without a drip.
Enter Havlat, whose fiery play had mostly been doused by a wet-blanket Vancouver D and its superhero goalie who dominated the first 117 minutes of play in Chicago.
"[Luongo] deserved better than that," said forward Darcy Hordichuk
, who scored a second-period goal that stood up for most of regulation. "He’s had our back all series long, and we just handed [Chicago] a tie game."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault
was as terse as expected when addressing the chain of mistakes that led to Chicago’s first score: "We were a couple of minutes away from a win, but we made four mistakes on one play, beginning with a turnover at the back of our net. When that happens, bad things occur."
One thing the entire Vancouver dressing room agreed on is even though Luongo has mostly snuffed Chicago, that means little with the series tied at two. And Luongo himself left the moral victories for pundits to ponder.
"We’ve been through some tough games," he said. "Sometimes games work out like this. It’s the first team to get to four, and we didn’t take a step in that direction tonight."
One thing is certain: The memory of this heartbreaking loss has already been left behind, in the visitor’s dressing room at the United Center, as the Canucks begin their trek back west.
As for the goalie who’s stood on his head for much of this series, he’s waxing a bit philosophical. After a game like this, what choice does he have?
"This is no more disappointing than any loss in a tight series," Luongo said. "There are ebbs and flows. Every inch matters, and we were an inch short tonight."