We're about halfway through the Conference Finals in the 2011 NHL Playoffs, and somehow Roberto Luongo and the Vancouver Canucks cannot get any respect. Held to an especially high standard by their fans after such a strong regular season, it seems even the Vancouver and NHL media are jumping on and off the bandwagon in such a schizophrenic manner, it's no wonder the Canucks' fan base is accused of being bandwagon fans.
If the Canucks lose three in a row, anyone listening to radio call in shows can hear the familiar refrain of 'Fire Vigneault - he can never hold a lead', 'Trade Luongo, he's not a big game goaltender', or 'Trade the Sedin twins, they are not playoff performers'. But is it the fan base that is mentally unstable, or could it be some of the Vancouver sports media and the plethora of panels of 'experts' that scrutinize the Canucks to fill air time?
Consider that the Canucks are presently in the Western Conference Final, with a 2-1 series lead over the San Jose Sharks, and we see Tony Gallagher pressing the panic button so hard his finger nearly fell off.
"Somewhere Manny Malhotra is working even harder to make it back before this is all over."
Right Tony, because a 2-1 series lead is definitely time to panic. In fact, when the Canucks are winning, Ryan Kesler is given a superman cape from the media, and the Canucks are the class of the NHL, but lose a game, and the Canucks have serious questions to answer...apparently.
Of course, this criticism is nothing new for the Canucks. In their second round series against Nashville - a series where they were always in control - media were criticizing the team for their inability to close out Game 5, citing how San Jose would beat Detroit and have many days to rest before preying on a fatigued Canucks squad. How did that prediction turn out? Detroit won three straight, forcing the Sharks to a seventh game and the Canucks wrapped their series up in six games, giving them four days off. If the Canucks had wrapped up in five games, you'd have heard that they were rusty against an intense Sharks group that had a rhythm going.
For a city and franchise that has such little success in the post-season, you'd expect some more positive articles about this Canucks run. No, it's not miraculous, and no, they aren't the underdog, but this group of players has immense pressure on them. With the weight of a city and province's hopes (perhaps not a nation's hopes), and the incredible expectations thrust upon them from their President's Trophy winning campaign, and a huge potential trophy case with endless award nominations this year, the team faces incredible pressure.
And yet, they show signs of being a champion. They've overcome adversity all year long, they've exorcised the Chicago Blackhawks demon, and they've never trailed in a series this playoff.
Roberto Luongo deserves some respect
After Patrick Marleau scored to make it 3-0 San Jose in Game 3, CBC cameras panned to Cory Schneider sitting on the bench, as if to suggest the Canucks should pull Roberto Luongo. Lou is definitely the Rodney Dangerfield of these NHL Playoffs.
In fact, if you remove the two complete no shows from the Canucks in games four and five against Chicago, Luongo's GAA is about 1.71 and his Save Percentage is .935 or so. Even if you include the no shows, which would be fair, Luongo boasts the best GAA among goaltenders still in the playoffs, an equally impressive Save Percentage, and he's tied for the playoff lead with two shutouts.
Our friends at Pass it to Bulis aptly point out that the Conference Finals have seen Niemi give up 7 goals in one game, Dwayne Roloson 6, and Tim Thomas 5 - including a few stinky ones, yet when Luongo gives up three goals when his team is outshot 15-1, his play is called into question?
In Game one of the Vancouver / San Jose Series, Sharks net minder Antti Niemi played the puck poorly behind his own net, resulting in the Canucks first goal, but all the talk was about Luongo's giveaway to Joe Thornton.
In game 3, Jason Botchford tweeted after one period of play "A goalie change is not out of the question. And right about now could be a good time to do it."
Ben Kuzma's article today is titled "Vigneault makes short work of any long discussion of goalie controversy". Excuse me? Luongo allows four goals on 38 shots over 10 power plays? 10! And you choose to write about Roberto Luongo?
"Roberto Luongo sat in a chair in front of his stall and had to wait for the media scrums to make their rounds before finally getting to the goaltender. It took more than a few minutes. It probably felt like a few hours." Here's why: Luongo wasn't the story. He wasn't the problem, and seldom is.
"Luongo would have been the story and quickly surrounded by a sea of microphones if the Vancouver Canucks starter was pulled after two periods Friday in a 4-3 loss to the San Jose Sharks. But he wasn't."
Yes, and Alain Vigneault would have been the story and been surrounded by microphones were he to lace up the skates, hop onto the ice and score a shorthanded goal. But he wasn't.
So sit back and enjoy the ride a bit, and put some perspective into things. The Canucks are looking good, and Luongo is too. He's won a gold medal, but was accused of being a passenger on that bus. If he wins a ring this summer with the Canucks, he might just be in the driver's seat.