Canucks coach’s folly was benching goalie Roberto Luongo
By rick morrissey email@example.com April 25, 2011 9:38PM
Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
Some enterprising travel agent should put together a tour of the world’s great ruins. The Colosseum. The Parthenon. Machu Picchu. Roberto Luongo.
Luongo’s goalie leg pads are standing like limestone pillars in Vancouver, but the rest of the Canucks star? Rubble.
It would be one thing if he had done it to himself or if the Blackhawks had done it to him. Then you’d say, “The poor guy let in so many goals he can’t function anymore.’’ But that’s not entirely what happened.
Luongo’s coach swung the wrecking ball. He benched one of the regular season’s top goaltenders for Game 6 of the Hawks-Canucks playoff series.
Astounding for the Hawks and likely devastating for Luongo going forward.
Was his benching a hockey thing, an Alain Vigneault thing or an injury thing? Whatever it was, it was a stupid thing. If Luongo was healthy enough to replace a cramping Cory Schneider late in Sunday’s game, he was healthy enough to start.
Think about it. You sit one of your best players in the most important game of the season to date because he has been struggling. In what other sport would that happen? If the Bulls’ Carlos Boozer had played poorly in two straight playoff games, would you think of benching . . . OK, bad example. How about this then: Can you imagine the Phillies going with an inexperienced pitcher in a postseason game because Cliff Lee had performed poorly in his previous two starts?
Vigneault said he “went with the gut.’’ His gut’s an idiot.
After Game 6, someone asked Luongo if he believed his coach still had confidence in him.
“Of course,” he said. “Why not?”
Why not? Why not? Because in a pivotal game, your coach treated you as if you were an air filter that needed to be replaced. Because, despite a shaky playoff history, you’re a decorated veteran. Because you’ve earned the right to win or lose the game for your team.
No one can be sure what Vigneault will do tonight. He said Monday that Luongo will start, but he said the same thing leading up to Game 6. If he benches Luongo again, it will be one of the biggest insults in sports history.
Lots of luggage for Luongo
Whatever he decides will be just fine with the Hawks, who have charged back from a 3-0 series deficit to force a deciding seventh game in Vancouver. Whoever is in the net tonight will feel the full weight of playing goalie for a No. 1 seed that is in serious danger of being knocked out of the playoffs by a No. 8 seed.
If it’s Luongo, he’ll surely be lugging doubts with him into the crease. Does his coach truly believe in him? Do Canucks fans? Does he, after the way the Hawks shelled him in Games 4 and 5? “No’’ would seem to be the correct answer to all three questions.
When Schneider had to leave Game 6 with leg cramps in the third period, in came Luongo. He didn’t play poorly, but he let in Ben Smith’s game-winning goal in overtime. For both teams, the lasting image heading into tonight’s showdown is of the Hawks celebrating and of Luongo sprawled on the United Center ice like a depressed polar bear.
Make no mistake: Luongo was atrocious in Games 4 and 5. He gave up a total of 10 goals and was replaced both times by Schneider. But would Vigneault think of benching either of the Sedin twins at this point in the season? Never.
Luongo handled the benching with class. Perhaps that’s part of the problem. Maybe he’s too accommodating.
“Me and Schneids were the best goaltending duo in the league this year, so I put my team in front of myself,” he said. “He’s just as good as me, and it doesn’t matter who’s in the net.”
The Hawks wouldn’t turn down another chance at Schneider either. He was out of position several times in Game 6 and paid for it.
‘They didn’t earn those goals’
“It’s frustrating to gift them two goals where you get caught out of the net,” he said. “They didn’t earn those goals, they fell into them. A team like that you can’t give them an inch, and we gifted them two.’’
What Schneider called gifts would better be referred to as “stupidity.’’
Really, things couldn’t be better for the defending Stanley Cup champion Hawks. They are trying to become the fourth team in NHL history to come back from a three-game deficit to win a playoff series. So the pressure is wherever the Canucks are.
They had the league’s best record in the regular season. In the first three games of this series, they looked much more talented than the Hawks. And then, well, the Canucks reverted to being the Canucks, a team that seems to be missing something in its mental makeup.
Henrik Sedin said the Hawks looked tired in Game 6. Maybe so. Luongo looks ruined.