"Roberto Luongo does not need to be the first star of this game for the Canucks to win," Mike Millbury said prior to Game 5. He's correct to an extent. The Canucks have "evolved" for lack of a better word from the times they needed Luongo to steal entire series for them. But, I for one am very glad that Luongo is back there. I have been since he came to the Canucks.
Looking back on the Canucks teams before Luongo came to Vancouver and it seemed that he was the missing piece to a Cup run. I don't think that Dan Cloutier and Alex Auld were bad goaltenders so to speak, but they weren't the type to steal games. Put in front of a different team, maybe they could go deep into the playoffs (Similar to Annti Niemi and last year's Blackhawks) But, Luongo was a cut above those two and he would lead the Canucks to the promised land.
He has, of course. The Canucks will play for the Stanley Cup next week. But, it took maybe longer then expected. Luongo, due to the nature of how he arrived in Vancouver (big trade) and his salary (a number every Canuck fan knows), has taken a lot of criticism. There's been a debate amongst the Canuck faithful about his worth, something that has been taken to ridiculous heights at times. It thankfully has spawned the #goaltendercontroversey meme here at Nucks Misconduct.
As I think about it though, maybe its not Luongo that we were debating, but rather the perception of Luongo. When he arrived, it seemed as if Luongo was capable of stopping everything. Any mistake he made was magnified. Did he let in soft goals? Of course, every goalie does. But, with Luongo, it seemed to some that Superman was becoming vincible. Never mind that his defense corps in front of him always seemed to enter April banged up, or the scoring touch of the Canucks seemed to dry up. Unfairly, Luongo bared the brunt of the criticism.
Even after he helped Canada win a Gold Medal (the one time I rooted against him...I'm American), the criticism continued. Personally, I felt that medal and Olympic performance should have erased any doubt about his abilities as a big game goaltender. Sadly, it did not.
Going through this season, Luongo was his usual spectacular self. Vezina Finalists typically are. Many probably wish he had one or two more shutouts, but thats the way the puck goes sometimes. He also started less games, allowing him to be rested for the playoff run. Ironically, having Corey Schneider play well in net allowed the fantasy goaltender controversy to continue. Both goalies played great all season long, but perception came into play once again.
That perception was brought into full force in the playoffs. This is where Luongo could not get it done, and through 15 games apparently, some decided he did not need to get it done. The Canucks could carry the play if Luongo had an off night. The perception had shifted, from a media standpoint, from the guy that can stop anything to the man that simply needs to keep it close. I personally felt that Luongo's play in Game 4 was overlooked by other stories, such as the penalty parade by both teams, Salo's cannon, and Henrick's five-hole pass. The Canucks were outshot heavily in games 4 and 5, and Luongo made sure that the Canucks were in those games. He stood on his head, he made spectacular saves, he stole two games for Vancouver. He's the goalie we expected back in 2006. But, I'd argue that Luongo has always been there (he's been extremely consistent numbers wise in his NHL career) and now he has the team to compliment him. Ironically, when some were saying that the Canucks didn't need Luongo to be spectaular, he was exactly that and now the franchise finds itself on the cusp of its first cup.
Its amazing how perceptions change.