The results of Game 1 notwithstanding, the series between the Canucks and Kings is about one thing: Roberto Luongo’s abilities. And that’s going to be true of every series he plays in from here on out until he wins a Stanley Cup or gets turfed out of Vancouver, or, somewhere in the future, the NHL.
Of course, those of us from Los Angeles don’t care to think that it’s all about “Luu.” For us, watching the Kings over the years and going through the frustrating agony of this season, the offensive doldrums and the seemingly dragging style of play that the Kings insisted on playing both before and after their coaching change, the series is about a group which has finally come together under a leader. Not Dustin Brown. His leadership was cemented several summers ago. Dean Lombardi, whose presence is represented in everyday form to the players via the coach he rescued from the Prairies, Darryl Sutter.
Kings observers want to see the team win, want vindication for so many times before that they haven’t, want to see the rebuilding plan finally having taken effect. And well it may do. The team has won one game, outscoring their regular-season average of goals (2.36) by nearly two. A split on the road to start (though who’s to say it won’t be 2-0 when they head back to California on the weekend?) is the oldest, most cliched way to win a hockey series. The Kings could well back up this win with a series victory, and go on to face St. Louis or Phoenix, both of whom they can beat. It might end up being one of those magical runs that playoff luck sometimes deals to a team.
But even if that happens, this series will still be about Roberto Luongo. After the spectacular failure of last spring, which, at least in the Finals, rested squarely on him, and after a regular season where he played fewer games than he has in every season but one since 2000-01, it’s his time again.
That if, is any time is his time. If he loses, then he proves something: every braggadocios word that has ever come out of his often-open mouth is worth exactly nothing. He’ll have let his President’s-trophy-winning team down twice in a row, rendering worthless all the effort they’ve put in over two years to get themselves positioned to try to gain the Cup.
What’ll happen then? In the old days, with a regular-length contract (four, say, or five years), he would have either been allowed to ride it out or, more likely, been ridden out of town. If there’s one thing that will shake every one of the eighteen skaters on the ice on a given night, after all, it’s a goalie who can’t be relied upon. And this guy, before this series, has proven lots of times that he can’t be.
Forget last spring. What about the Olympics? As I’ve written elsewhere and before at IH, Canadians remember the gold. They forget that the game with the US wouldn’t have gone to overtime, indeed should never have, had Luongo not punted a puck off his glove and straight back into the slot to let the Americans tie the game in the third period. But for Crosby’s no-look shot, that gold might not have been. And it would have been squarely down to Roberto Luongo.
Should he prevail against the Kings, he’ll have taken a step to redeem last spring, but only a small one. Then he’s got to do it three more times. Or perhaps his teammates have to win a couple of series while he steals one. Scratch that. Stealing a series from a position of strength like he goes in with isn’t possible. He’s got to win them, outright, simply by putting aside his ego and getting down to business.
It’s not theft for the best team in the league to win in the playoffs when they’ve got a veteran team that’s been through it before (New Jersey, Anaheim, Carolina, etc.).
However, it would be highway robbery for this goalie to allow anything else to transpire except that he leads his team to victory. Interesting times, this week, in Vancouver. Let’s see what happens.
Roberto Luongo turns up in Brian’s book, My Country Is Hockey. It’s available now!