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Luongo back in goal for Canucks

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- The Vancouver Canucks added another twist to their season-long goaltending soap opera when the club announced Roberto Luongo will start in net when the Canucks play Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, TSN, RDS).

The possibility of Luongo playing in the opener was raised when Cory Schneider missed the final two games of the regular season and stayed off the ice for five days with what the team called a "body" injury. However, Schneider skated on his own Sunday and with team since Monday and Tuesday. He said after practice Tuesday he felt good enough to play.

Instead it will be Luongo, who lost the No. 1 job two games into last year's playoffs and started this season as Schneider's backup while expecting a trade that never happened.

"It's kind of funny I'm in this situation, but at the same time I'm not surprised," Luongo said, adding he didn't learn he was starting until Wednesday morning. "The way things have been going the last year, I didn't rule it out, for sure. It's been a fun ride and it's only going to get better from here on out."

The ride won't feature Schneider on the bench. First-year pro Joe Cannata, called up from the American Hockey League when Schneider couldn't practice last week, will dress as the backup.

"He [Schneider] is just not healthy enough right now," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said.

Schneider, who did not talk to the media Wednesday, played 16 of 18 games after mid-March, entrenching himself as the No. 1 by winning 11 of those 16 while posting a .942 save percentage. It included 24 saves in a 3-1 win against the Chicago Blackhawks last Monday, a game Schneider finished and looked fine talking about afterward.

Schneider practiced Monday and Tuesday and appeared ready to return, but Luongo kept saying he was preparing to start the playoffs.

"I wasn't sure. We've been talking the whole week and he's obviously progressing and the decision was made that maybe it would be best to rest him a couple more days," Luongo said of Schneider. "For me it's an opportunity. I am just excited to be playing playoff hockey again."

Schneider, who went 17-9-4 in 30 games this season, has been the Canucks' best player on most nights this season, and ranked in the top 10 in the NHL with a 2.11 goals-against average, in the top five with a .927 save percentage, and tied for the League lead with five shutouts, including four since taking over in mid-March. At the same time, Luongo was adjusting to a lesser role, playing well in two starts during Schneider's long streak of starts before losing the final two games after Schneider was hurt.

Luongo finished the season 9-6-3 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .907 save percentage -- his worst statistics since he was a rookie with the New York Islanders in 1999-2000. That included giving up seven goals -- including five in the final seven minutes -- in a 7-2 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday, but Luongo said he feels good about his game.

"It's already erased. It's long gone," he said of the loss to Edmonton. "This is playoffs, everybody starts off at zeros and away we go."

As for what might happen if Luongo, who backstopped Vancouver past San Jose in the 2011 Western Conference Finals, plays well and Schneider is ready to come back later in the series, Vigneault said he wasn't looking past Game 1.

Luongo wasn't worried about it, either, saying it didn't matter who was in net because both goalies want to win. He did say he's glad now he didn't get traded, and he said he feels he's stronger mentally after everything he's gone through the last year.

"I view a lot of things differently now," Luongo said. "I handle things differently than I have. I'm better at facing adversity. I think once you've been through it many times, you find it easier to pick yourself back up and overcome it and move on. There's where I am right now. I'm excited to play tonight."

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