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Schneider injury puts Luongo back in Canucks' net

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Given all the drama surrounding the Vancouver Canucks' goaltending situation this season, it’s not surprising there has been another twist heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Canucks announced Thursday that Cory Schneider is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury, meaning Roberto Luongo could return to being the No. 1 goalie for the Canucks to start the postseason.

At the very least, Luongo will play against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday (10 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), and could start the season finale at the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday.

"I'm not going to speculate at this point," Luongo said when asked about the possibility of being the playoff starter almost a year after losing the job to Schneider. "Right now I am just going to be focused on the next couple games. I want to make sure I play as well as I could and see what happens next week. I'll be ready either way. I'm sure Cory is going to be doing his best to be ready for Game 1, but he knows his body, and with the training staff, they'll decide."

Asked later if that meant he was playing both games before the playoffs, Luongo told, "Yeah, I think so. I can't say for sure 100 percent but … yeah."

Schneider has played 16 of the past 18 games, entrenching himself as the unquestioned No. 1 by winning 11 of those starts while posting a .942 save percentage. That includes 24 saves in a 3-1 win against the rival Chicago Blackhawks on Monday, a game Schneider finished then looked healthy meeting the media after the game. According to coach Alain Vigneault, however, Schneider was injured during the game.

Vigneault just wasn't willing to say how Schneider got hurt or how long he might be out.

Asked if he was confident Schneider would be back to start the playoffs, Vigneault said, "We're hoping. He's got a body injury that's day-to-day."

The Canucks recalled first-year pro Joe Cannata from the American Hockey League, but all eyes will be on Luongo, who said it was time to move on after losing the starting job three games into last year's playoffs.

With Schneider out, the Canucks are glad to have him now.

"It's pretty amazing, isn't it?" Luongo said of all the twists and turns during the past year. "That being said, we still have a little ways to go before it's over. So we are going to enjoy it for the time being and we'll see where it leads us."

Luongo wasn’t willing to talk about the possibility of Thursday being potentially his final home game with the Canucks.

"I just can't see it that way because of the playoffs next week," he said. "From the fans' side, if they want to see it that way, so be it, but I am focused on playing."

Luongo maintained that focus despite an emotional NHL Trade Deadline day, which included him being pulled off the ice early in case he needed to sign off on his no-trade clause and ended with him lamenting his $64 million, 12-year contract because it was making it hard for the Canucks to trade him. He pledged then to take a day to deal with the emotions that showed through in that press conference then refocus for the remainder of the season. He showed he had done that when Schneider came down with the flu before a game against the Calgary Flames on April 10, making 40 saves in a 4-1 win and talking after about needing to prove to teammates he hadn't checked out on the season.

"Everything happens for a reason, so like I said after the deadline, I just wanted to let everyone know I was here, 100 percent committed to this team," Luongo said Wednesday. "I want to make a run with these guys and hopefully go all the way, and whatever capacity that is, I'm 100 percent dedicated and it starts [Thursday]. We have two games to close out the year and the playoffs around the corner and we want to make sure as a team, myself included, we are ready to get going."

It won’t be easy for Luongo after sitting out for the first time in his career.

Schneider, who has a 17-9-4 record, has been the Canucks' best player on most nights this season. He ranks in the top 10 in the NHL with a 2.11 goals-against average, in the top five with a .927 save percentage, and is tied for the League lead with five shutouts, including four since taking over in mid-March. Luongo, meanwhile, has been learning to adjust to a lesser role, but played well in his past two starts.

"It just makes you appreciate more when you are in net," he said.

Luongo is 9-4-3 with a 2.34 GAA and a .913 save percentage that was hurt by two blowout losses to the Detroit Red Wings.

"It's more of the adjustment when you are not playing then when you actually do get the start," Luongo said of being a backup. "The big thing is when you don't play for a while you know the adrenaline is going to be pumping when you are back in there and you are going to be jumping, so that's always a good sign."

With the playoffs around the corner, it also may be a good sign that the Canucks don't have to look back very far to remember that Luongo led them to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final two years ago. He also pointed to a past World Championship, when he took over for injured Sean Burke in the semifinals, and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, when he replaced Martin Brodeur. Luongo led Canada to the gold each time.

"You've just got to be ready, that's the main key, and you don't want to be caught in a situation that you are not 100 percent focused on," Luongo said.

He's ready for the playoffs. The question is whether Schneider will be too.

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