Hockey

Will Canucks respond to Luongo's tongue-lashing?

Goalie Robert Luongo's recent comments and the logjam in the NHL's Western Conference should motivate the Vancouver Canucks when they host Columbus on Friday (7 p.m. PT).

Goalie takes aim at teammates ahead of Friday's critical game against Columbus

An emphatic Roberto Luongo addressed reporters Thursday, telling them he doesn't throw his Vancouver Canucks teammates under the bus.

Perhaps the standout goaltender was simply trying to light a fire under the NHL club with his comments following Wednesday's 3-2 shootout loss to Colorado.

What set Luongo off was Avalanche captain Joe Sakic's goal with 14.7 seconds left in regulation after Alex Burrows, Ryan Kesler and Sami Salo failed to clear the puck.

"It's unacceptable, inexcusable, that should never happen in an important game like that. So we just pissed away two points tonight," Luongo said after the game.

Chances are good Vancouver will be a motivated bunch on Friday (7 p.m. PT) when the Columbus Blue Jackets pay a visit, if for no other reason than the logjam of teams vying for a playoff berth in the Western Conference.

With 19 games left in the season, the Canucks occupy seventh place with 73 points. Colorado (72), Nashville (72) and Phoenix (71) are breathing down their necks, while 11th-place Columbus is just six points behind Vancouver.

More importantly, all four of those teams have played 65 games to the Canucks' 63.

Vancouver, with a 32-22-9 record, will try for a third win in four attempts against the Blue Jackets this season.

The Canucks are 10-2-1 all-time versus Columbus on home ice, winning seven times by one or two goals. In the most recent meeting on Jan. 15, the Blue Jackets pulled out a 3-2 home victory, beating Luongo twice in the first period.

Luongo sporting a 1.78 goals-against average

The two-time NHL all-star has posted a stellar 1.78 goals-against average in his career versus Columbus, but has dropped three of the past four encounters.

Prior to Wednesday's setback, Luongo's teammates averaged 3.5 goals in their previous six contests, but have managed only eight goals in the first three of four matchups with the Jackets.

Luongo's recent comments could very well shake up the team and result in an offensive outburst.

Defenceman Willie Mitchell, on the ice when Sakic scored, made it clear he had no problem with the goalie's rant. And Canucks coach Alain Vigneault echoed that sentiment.

"He's a competitor, every practice, every game, he just goes out there and competes and doesn't like to get scored on, doesn't like to lose," said Vigneault of Luongo. "I think it rubs off on everybody in a positive way and we're lucky to have that type of competitor in our [dressing] room."

The Blue Jackets (29-27-9) need a strong finish to reach the post-season for the first time in the franchise's six-year history and Friday would be a good time to start a winning run.

But coach Ken Hitchcock will need a better effort from his charges than Wednesday when Columbus was outshot 32-19 in a 4-2 loss at the hands of the San Jose Sharks.

"As the game went on, we were devoid of emotion," Hitchcock said. "We're not going to win games playing the way we did."

Among the few positives was right-winger David Vyborny, who ended a 24-game scoring drought with a pair of goals. It was the team's first game without forward Sergei Fedorov and defenceman Adam Foote, who were sent packing before Tuesday's trade deadline.

Netminder Pascal Leclaire, however, remains a Blue Jacket and looks to make it two straight wins over Vancouver. He leads the NHL with nine shutouts this season.

With files from the Associated Press

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