He was the difference tonight. He made some huge saves for us.Given the position he plays, 'imposing' might not be the first word that comes to mind when you think of Roberto Luongo.— Josh Green
But there he was last night in hostile Joe Louis Arena, filling the Canucks' net with his lanky frame and turning aside 27 of 28 shots en route to picking up first star honours.
It was a great start in what is a new life in hockey for the Montreal native.
Given Luongo's been exhiled to two terrible American-based franchises for his entire NHL career, generally obscured from Canadians' view aside from the odd international appearance, he's not a player many hockey fans have an intimate understanding of. (Never playing beyond early April has that effect on a lot of players.)
Granted, we've known all along he's a terrific goaltender, but the first thing that strikes you after seeing him in Vancouver's net for the first time is his size. Luongo's listed as being 6 foot 3, 205 pounds, but stooped in the four-foot high net in a position that, frankly, looks uncomfortable for a man of his stature, he gains an extra three inches and 20 pounds. And, yet, there's something oh so graceful in how he lurches from Textbook Goaltender Stance A , to B, and beyond.
The last time the Canucks really managed to capture British Columbian's imaginations was when they made their run to the Stanley Cup finals in 1994, back when one of the franchise's few marquee netminders, Kirk McLean, was the reason that lunchpail team had any success at all.
In the 12 years since, things haven't been pretty in the Vancouver crease.
Despite the fact Dan Cloutier managed to win 30+ games three years in a row behind a team considered a contender, the Canucks fan's malaise the past decade has always been one of 'oh he saved it' rather than any sort of confidence that the 30-something pucks directed on goal each night weren't, in fact, destined to go in.
That's going to change.
Granted, it's only one game, but last night's effort from Vancouver looked far removed from the listless mess of previous Canucks incarnations, and it's that workmanlike approach that a team short on snipers is going to have to take. And the thing is, unlike in the past when this team had to outscore the opposition, one gets the feeling that if Vancouver can simply put two or three garbage goals past the opposition every night, Luongo will close the door.
While Cloutier was — and is — undoubtedly a solid NHL netminder, and probably near the backend of the Top 20 range, Luongo is one of the premier goaltenders in the game. And the gap between No. 20 and No. 1, as witnessed last night, is chasm-like.
In the past, a 3-1 lead heading into the third period against a team like Detroit was anything but a sure thing for Vancouver, but last night, there was no panic. And that has everything to do with the figure looming large in the crease.
If he keeps this up, Luongo's on his way to becoming the most popular Canuck of all-time.