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Tortorella defends decision to start Lack over Luongo

by Kevin Woodley

VANCOUVER -- Eddie Lack had just given up the go-ahead goal when the chants inside BC Place started up.

The Vancouver Canucks goalie knew they weren't for him.

As if getting a controversial start ahead of veteran Roberto Luongo in a key game wasn't enough pressure, the 26-year-old rookie had to hear 54,194 fans asking for the goalie sitting on the bench.

The chants of, "We want Lu!" rang out shortly after Cody Ceci put the Ottawa Senators ahead 3-2 midway through the second period of the 2014 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic on Sunday.

Lack was on the bench for an extra attacker when Ottawa scored the final goal into an empty net with 1:33 left to wrap up the 4-2 win. The big question after was why he wasn't there throughout.

"It's their opinion and if they want to give a 'Lu' chant, I am OK with it," Lack said after finishing with 24 saves. "He's the best goalie this franchise has had and I understand he has a lot of fans."

Canucks coach John Tortorella said it was his decision to start Lack, one he would make again despite knowing it would create a controversy just eight months after the Canucks solved another crease crisis by trading goalie Cory Schneider to the New Jersey Devils at the 2013 NHL Draft.

Tortorella cited Lack's strong play since the 2014 Sochi Olympics, starting with a 1-0 shutout of the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday continuing with a 2-1 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Friday in which he stopped the first six shooters in the tiebreaker.

"[Luongo] wasn't benched. I decided to play Eddie Lack over him," Tortorella said. "Before this game the way Eddie was playing, I thought it was our best chance to get two points."

Tortorella insisted he was well aware of the history, which included Luongo waiting 18 months for a trade after losing the starting job to Schneider during the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs, only to be the goaltender Vancouver decided to keep. Now Luongo, whose 12-year, $64-million contract runs through the 2021-22 season, and the Canucks could be facing a similar situation.

"Yeah, [Luongo is] angry. He's not happy. He's proud. I get that. I like the guy. I think he's been terrific for us this year, but this is part of the business," Tortorella said. "I know it's sensitive here, and I tell you, I did a lot of thinking about that. I have to make decisions each and every time with such short strokes that I think is going to give our team the best chance to win. Eddie was playing lights out."

Luongo, who had lost five straight with the Canucks before shutting out Austria in his only appearance for Canada at the Olympics, did not talk after the game. But the 34-year-old made it clear the day before he had been looking forward to his first career stadium game.

The crowd at BC Place seemed to feel the same way.

They booed – or was it a Lu? – when Lack was announced as the starter before the game, and again when the starting goalie statistics were shown on the scoreboard five minutes unto the game.

"You could hear the fans kind of put one and one together and know what it was all about," Canucks forward Alexandre Burrows said. "It might be a little bit tough, but those boos might just have been some 'Lus.' That's how I look at it and that's how [Lack] should be looking at it too."

Despite admitting to hearing it, Lack insisted the crowd reaction did not affect him. He said he didn't see the first two goals through traffic by Clarke MacArthur and Erik Karlsson on a power play, and felt good about his game despite getting help from three posts.

"I know there was a lot of talk around this game, but I was just trying to play my game out there and focus on me and try to shut all that other part out," Lack said. "It was such a big game, so try to shut that out and I think mentally I did it pretty good."

Tortorella shared that assessment – for the most part.

"Some of the things going on around him before the game, during the game, I thought he looked not himself, honestly, but he made some big saves," Tortorella said. "You guys make the call if it's right, and you will, but I would make the same call if it came up again."

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