VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- If his 31-save performance during the Canucks' 1-0 victory in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final tonight wasn't evidence enough that Roberto Luongo had regained his confidence after a dismal two games in Boston, a final verdict certainly could be rendered after the game.
Luongo, who gave up 12 goals in Games 3 and 4 in Boston, was asked in the postgame press conference how difficult it is to play a puck of the end boards. It was a logical question given that the game's lone goal came on a deflection off those boards to the Canucks' perfectly situated Maxim Lapierre 4:35 into the third period.
And Luongo had his answer ready, one that back in Boston, at least, may have sounded like a small dig at his Bruins' counterpart.
"It's not hard if you're playing in the paint," said Luongo. "It's an easy save for me, but if you're wandering out and aggressive like he does, that's going to happen. He might make some saves that I won't, but in a case like that, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we're in a good position to bury those."
Maybe Luongo didn't mean anything by it. Maybe it was simply candor. But considering the Canucks' gripes about Thomas straying from his crease in this series, their satisfaction in beating him because he strayed too far from the net would be understandible.
Thomas stopped 24 of the 25 shots he faced, and was more spectacular than Luongo. But the Canucks' goalie rides the highs and lows more than a netminder of his accomplishment should; he backstopped Canada to a gold medal in the Vancouver Olympics, yet was benched for a game during a first-round series against Chicago and his removal from Game 4 was reportedly cheered here.
"The only thing I have to prove things to is myself, my teammates, and my family and friends. That's who I play for," Luongo said when asked why he always seems to be on the hot seat. "I play the game because I love it and I want to win the Stanley Cup. So that's the only motivation I need right now. I try to block everything else out. Sometimes it's hard to do in a city like this. You can't let those things affect you because then they
will affect your game."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said yesterday and reiterated during the pregame today that there was never any doubt Luongo would start this game.
"Everybody in our dressing room and around our organization knows Roberto's character and his competitiveness and how he prepares himself," Vigneault said. "He went out tonight and he played a great game for us."
Luongo's biggest save, or saves, came with Boston on a power play at 15:09 of the first period, when he stopped Patrice Bergeron's redirection of a Dennis Seidenberg slapper, then used his blocker to stone Bergeron point-blank on the rebound.
"Tonight I thought we had some penalties to kill in the first [the Bruins were 0 for 3 on the power play in the first period, and 0 for 4 overall], and he made some great saves overall right out of the gate," Vigneault said. "I think at the end of the day, in Boston a lot of the attention was put on Roberto, but it was the whole group. This is a team game."
Bruins coach Claude Julien lamented the lost opportunity, admitting that he wished his team had tested Luongo more often, especially early.
"We didn't test him as much as we needed," Julien said. "I think a lot of the things that you saw tonight are a lot of the things that you saw in the first two games. Good
effort, not good enough. Times where we should have gotten the puck in deep and established our forecheck, wasn't obvious. We turned some pucks over.
"Give credit to the goaltender. He played well tonight, but we certainly didn't make it as hard on him as we did in the last two games at home. Those are things that I remember the most from this game that certainly we could have done better."