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Luongo saves his best performance for Game 5

by Dave Lozo /

VANCOUVER -- There was a point during the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Roberto Luongo was struggling so badly that coach Alain Vigneault turned to backup Cory Schneider for a start during the first round.

Exactly one month after that benching against the Chicago Blackhawks, Luongo put the Canucks on his back and carried them to their first Stanley Cup Final since 1994.

Luongo made 54 saves -- including 16 during the first overtime period -- to lead the Canucks to a 3-2 victory in double overtime in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night at Rogers Arena.

At one point, however, Luongo's dream night looked like it wasn't going to happen.

The Sharks struck for a quick goal early in the third period go up 2-1. It was a freak play that started with a breakdown by the Canucks in the neutral zone that led to a 2-on-0 where Joe Pavelski slipped a pass to Devin Setoguchi as Luongo raced out of his net to get the puck. Setoguchi stashed it into the empty net, but Luongo stopped the final 30 shots he faced in the game.

When asked about that strange goal after the game, Luongo was just as sharp talking with the media as he was during Game 5.

"I play like a D-man. I took the shooter," Luongo said. "He made the pass. Not my fault."

Despite Luongo not having any chance of winning a Norris Trophy with defensemen skills like those, he showed why he's a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as one of the best goaltenders in the League right now.

"He was great. He turned away everything," teammate Ryan Kesler said. "After he let that one in in the third, he shut the door after that. He really battled hard and gave us a chance to win."

Luongo needed to be at his best during the first period and first overtime, when he was under siege from the Sharks.

Early in the first period, he had to make a sprawling stop on Joe Thornton, who looked fine despite playing with a separated shoulder. But Luongo was a one-man show with the Canucks killing a 5-on-3 power play for 1:24, stopping four shots with the Canucks down two men and six overall while the shorthanded during those two minutes.

The effort kept the Canucks in front 1-0 after one period.

Luongo wasn't complaining about the breakdowns happening in front of him. Instead, he spoke about his busy workload as if it was a dream come true.

"That's what hockey is all about. That's why you play, to be in situations like that," Luongo said. 

"You know, overtime in a conference final, you dream of things like that. I was just going out there, and I was out in front playing the game. I felt great the whole game. I was in the zone. I was just having fun out there."

Perhaps Luongo prefers to be busy. It was something he dealt with a lot during his time with the Florida Panthers, who asked him to make more than 50 saves on more occasions than most goaltenders would prefer before he was traded to Vancouver in 2006.

"Every time he gets 50 shots, he's pretty good," Alex Burrows said. "Back in his Florida days, he got a lot of experience with that. So he was unbelievable and made some big saves. He looked big and played with confidence."

Vigneault tried to put Luongo's effort in perspective when asked if it was his best game as a Canuck.

"I thought he was real good," Vigneault said. "We had a couple of breakdowns that he was able to keep us in the game. He was the difference tonight.

"He's played a tremendous amount of very good games for this organization since I've been here and since he's been here. We've both been here five years.  Obviously tonight was a bigger stage. It was the first time we were in this type of opportunity. He played phenomenal."

The Sharks' Patrick Marleau, who found a way to beat Luongo in the second period with a deflection, tipped his cap to his Team Canada teammate that won gold during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

"He was good. He made a lot of good saves for them," Marleau said. "We had some pretty prime scoring chances, but Roberto stood tall. An inch here or there and we get a break, but it went the other way tonight."

Now Luongo will enjoy a few days of rest before participating in his first Stanley Cup Final.

"I worked my whole life to be in this situation right now," Luongo said. "It's a great feeling, especially winning in overtime. I'm just looking forward to starting the next series."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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