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Playoffs 2013 Roberto Luongo 'excited' for playoff opportunity

Posted: Wednesday, May 1, 2013 | 04:37 PM

Categories: Playoffs 2013, St. Louis Blues, VAN vs SJ, Vancouver Canucks

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Roberto Luongo will start Game 1 of Vancouver's series against San Jose. (Rich Lam/Getty Images) Roberto Luongo will start Game 1 of Vancouver's series against San Jose. (Rich Lam/Getty Images)

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The goaltender Vancouver tried to trade away this season will be in net Wednesday night when the Canucks open their first-round NHL Western Conference playoff series against the San Jose Sharks.
By Jim Morris, Special to CBC Sports

The goaltender Vancouver tried to trade away this season will be in net Wednesday night when the Canucks open their first-round NHL Western Conference playoff series against the San Jose Sharks.

Roberto Luongo, who lost his starting job to Cory Schneider during last year's playoffs, will be the Canucks' starter, coach Alain Vigneault said after the morning skate.

Schneider missed the last two games of the regular season with what the team described as a "body injury." Schneider won't even dress for the opening game. Joe Cannata, who spent most of the season in the AHL, will be the backup.

Luongo, who had a 9-6-3 record and 2.56 goals-against average in 20 games this season, was told Wednesday morning he would start.

"We've been talking the whole week," he said. "[Schneider] is progressing. The decision was made maybe it would be best to rest him.

"For me it's an opportunity. I'm excited for it. I'm just excited to be playing hockey again."

Schneider, who had a 17-9-4 record and 2.11 goals against in 30 games, had two full practises this week. He was the first goaltender on the ice Wednesday morning, leading to speculation he would start.

"We had an idea yesterday," said Vigneault. "We told Lui before he left to be ready.

"This morning when we talked to Schneids prior to practice it was a pretty easy decision to make."

Getting the playoff nod is another peak in a roller-coaster season for Luongo. He was replaced by Schneider after Vancouver was beaten by the Los Angeles Kings in the first two games of their first-round series last year. Vancouver lost in five games.

When the Canucks signed Schneider to a three-year, $12-million US contract in June it appeared Luongo's days as a Canuck were over. But trading the 34-year-old and his $5.3 million salary cap hit for the next nine years proved difficult.

When no deal was done by the trade deadline it looked like Luongo would spend the rest of the season as a highly paid backup.

"Things happen," Luongo shrugged. "You try and figure out why. Sometimes you don't understand.

"At the end of the day we are all playing hockey. I'm excited about the opportunity to be playing a playoff game with this team. Hopefully we get a win and move on."

Luongo lost his final two regular-season appearances. The Canucks were beaten 3-1 by Anaheim on Thursday, then whipped 7-2 by Edmonton Saturday.

"The Edmonton game I felt like I had my A-game for 55 minutes," said Luongo. "We all saw what happened.

"It's already erased. It's long gone. This is the playoffs. Everyone starts at zeros, and away we go."

Vigneault said the team knew for the last several days Schneider might not play.

"I don't think for our group having Roberto in goal is a concern," said Vigneault. "He's a pretty good goalie.

"He's been through a lot of battles. He's played some real solid hockey for us. Tonight he's playing. I'm sure he's looking forward to this opportunity."

Schneider was in goal for the Canucks' three losses against San Jose this season.

Sharks captain Joe Thornton said facing Luongo won't change the San Jose game plan.

"Lui is a world-class goalie and so is Cory," said Thornton. "Either one we go against is going to be a big challenge for us.

"We have to get a lot of shots, a lot of traffic and hope a couple squeak by."

Centre Ryan Kesler did skate Wednesday morning but Vigneault said he would play.

"We've got him locked up in the back," he joked. "We're feeding him raw meat. The beast will be ready tonight."

One of the Vancouver newspapers ran a full page photo of Kesler with the headline: Release the Beast.

The other Canuck who will miss the opening game is defenceman Chris Tanev, who is out with a foot injury.

The Sharks are expected to play without defenceman Jason Demers (sprained ankle) and centre Scott Gomez (general body soreness).

The Canucks' lines will see Henrik Sedin playing between brother Daniel and Alex Burrows; Kesler with Chris Higgins and Zack Kassian; Derek Roy between Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen; and Andrew Ebbett centring Maxim Lapierre and Dale Weise.

On defence, Dan Hamhuis will be paired with Jason Garrison; Kevin Bieksa with Alex Edler and Andrew Alberts with rookie Frank Corrado.

Follow Jim Morris on Twitter @jememorris.

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