VANCOUVER - It was goalie Roberto Luongo's first game back after a rib injury and he wasted no time imposing his will on the New Jersey Devils.
Luongo made an early save on Travis Zajac en route to a 32-save shutout as the Vancouver Canucks blanked the Devils 5-0 Tuesday. The puck bounced onto Zajac's stick in the Vancouver zone just 12 seconds into the game. Zajac was eyball-to-eyeball with Luongo but the netminder stoned him with a poke-check.
"You want to be ready," said Luongo after his fifth shutout of the season.
"Unfortunately it was a bit of a bad bounce and it ended up on the other guy's (Zajac's) stick but things like that can change the game around. If he scores there, maybe it's a different game so I try to do my job and take it from there."
Luongo suffered the injury Dec. 2 when he stopped a shot in Minneapolis. He said he felt good after missing four games and had the upper hand in his marquee match-up with Devils counterpart Martin Brodeur.
"Having Roberto come back like this and setting the tone right off the bat by saving the breakaway, I think he set the pace and got us going," said Markus Naslund, who scored the final two goals game to end a nine-game drought.
Luongo, who strung together 210 minutes, 34 seconds of shutout hockey before the injury, said he didn't feel sharp until the second period.
"There were a lot of perimeter shots and the guys took care of the rest," he said.
The game was billed as a clash of the NHL's two best goalies but Luongo shone while Brodeur struggled. Luongo drew cheers of "Looo, looo" while Brodeur was greeted with sarcastic Bronx cheers.
Aaron Miller's first goal in 194 games skipped on the ice and went in off the far post. Ryan Kesler beat Brodeur with a superb second effort, hooking the puck in as he slid past the crease. Trevor Linden's slapshot hit defender Vitaly Vishnevski's stick before settling under the crossbar.
And Naslund scored two pretty goals with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin as the Canucks' No. 1 line combined for seven points.
Kesler, who is relishing his new role shutting down the opposition's top lines, said his ninth goal of the season and Linden's marker early in the second period took the Devils out of the game.
"They play a certain style of game where it's hard to generate any offence so we wanted to jump on them early so they can't just sit back and play the style they wanted to," Kesler said.
Brodeur, who finished with 19 saves, said the Devils didn't challenge Luongo and for him, it was one of those nights.
"Sometimes the puck hits you, sometimes it doesn't," said Brodeur, the 14-year veteran with three Stanley Cup rings who beat out Luongo last season for the Vezina trophy.
"They got a break. I just misread the play on (Kesler)." It was the seventh time New Jersey had been blanked this season and the defeat equalled their worst loss - 5-0 to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"It's always a concern when you don't score goals but some guys haven't produced offensively like they should," said coach Brent Sutter. "Luongo made saves tonight but we also made it easy on him. We didn't do enough to create traffic, to make it tough on him to see shots." Miller hadn't scored since Nov. 27 2003 against the Phoenix Coyotes but took his goal in stride.
"Martin Brodeur, about an hour ago," he deadpanned when asked if he remembered his last goal.
"Before that, I don't know. I couldn't tell you. I think it was pre-lockout."
NOTES: Luongo scooped up the puck at the end of the game but didn't keep it as a souvenir ... he gave it to a youngster with whom he made a commercial for a Canucks charity ... Devils winger Jay Pandolfo missed his 10th straight game with a groin injury ... it was New Jersey's first game here in six years ... Devils defencemen Colin White and Mike Mottau were minus-4 ... New Jersey visits Edmonton on Friday and Calgary on Sunday.