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Passed over for Vezina, Luongo eyeing Stanley Cup

NHL.com @NHL

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) - If Roberto Luongo gets any trophy recognizing his goaltending excellence this year, the Stanley Cup is going to have to do.

The Canucks goalie - the best in the league since the NHL playoffs began - was left off the list of finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given annually to the league's top netminder.

"It doesn't matter to me," Luongo said after a fast-paced, physical practice, curtly dismissing questions about the Vezina a couple of times. "I'm here playing for the playoffs right now and for the Cup. I couldn't care less about the regular season."

Niklas Backstrom of the Minnesota Wild, Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins made the cut.

But after the Canucks' four-game sweep of St. Louis, leads the league with a 1.15 goals-against average and .962 save percentage. He stopped 126 of the Blues' 131 shots, including all 18 in overtime of a Game 4 victory.

What probably caused Luongo to be overlooked was missing 24 games and almost two months in the middle of that season due to a serious groin injury.

Even so, his 2.34 GAA and .920 win percentage were both in the top five, and he matched Mason's 33 wins in seven fewer games.

He finished the regular season with consecutive shutouts to secure a Northwest Division title and home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, and there was no dropoff against the Blues.

After missing the playoffs for the first six seasons of his career with the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, Luongo has made it clear he is driven now to win a Stanley Cup. He got to the second round his first year in Vancouver in 2007, but after missing the playoffs again after a late collapse last season, seems even more determined to prove himself in this postseason.

"Once you get to the playoffs there's always that extra level, and some players, you don't know what it is, but they have it," Luongo said. "That's the type of player I want to be. In the playoffs, with the chips down and facing the most crucial moment, you want to be at your best."

It showed against St. Louis. Luongo said two games into the series he was confident he could "stop a guy straight on, pretty much anybody in the league."

"Passion, intensity, excitement, that look of 'No one is going to beat me, give it your best shot,"' O'Brien said. "He was pretty much impossible to beat. On a clean shot from a scoring chance, none of those guys beat him, so I'm sure it gets in their heads.

"Once you get to the playoffs there's always that extra level, and some players, you don't know what it is, but they have it.  That's the type of player I want to be. In the playoffs, with the chips down and facing the most crucial moment, you want to be at your best." -- Roberto Luongo

With the defense boxing out effectively in front of his net, Luongo almost always saw the shot. And with Vancouver's forwards backchecking hard, the Blues were usually in a hurry to get them off.

The combination allowed Luongo to read the play and square his big 6-foot-3 frame to the shooter, leaving them little net to see, and leading to plenty of off-target shots. It was a big reason Vancouver killed off 23 of 24 power plays in the first round, including three lengthy 5-on-3s.

"When a guy is pressured and doesn't have a lot time to pick his corner, that plays to my advantage," Luongo said. "If a guy has time and space, anybody can put a puck off the post and in. So right now that's what the guys are doing in front of me that is really helping me out, as far as pressuring and making them get shots off in a hurry."

Luongo should get even more help in the second round, with defensemen Sami Salo and Willie Mitchell both expected to play when Vancouver gets back in action.

Salo was back at practice on Monday after missing Game 4 in St. Louis, and pronounced himself fit. Mitchell, who was limping after Game 4, skipped practice Monday after leaving early Saturday, but coach Alain Vigneault expects him to play.

Unknown so far is who they will play against. The Canucks have been waiting and resting since sweeping St. Louis a week ago Tuesday night.

If No. 8 seed Anaheim completes an upset of San Jose, Vancouver will open at home against the winner of the Chicago-Calgary series. If the Sharks win, Vancouver will travel to Detroit.

The Ducks led 3-2 going into Monday night's Game 6 at home.

No matter who they play, life should be easier for Luongo.

"Great players find a way to elevate their game, bring it to another level, and he's done that," Vigneault said. "We need him to bring it to another level because as it continues it's going to get more challenging every game."
 

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