Luongo silences his critics
Team Canada goalie turns away 34 shots to seal win over U.S.
Roberto Luongo didn't expect to be Team Canada's No. 1 goalie, but when he got the unexpected tap on the shoulder, the Canucks captain got the job done at the Vancouver Olympics.
After replacing the veteran starter Martin Brodeur, Luongo backstopped Canada to a 5-0 record, posting solid numbers along the way. He finished the tournament with a .927 save percentage and a 1.76 goals against average.
In Sunday's gold-medal thriller against the U.S., Luongo gave up several juicy rebounds and gave the puck away a couple of times. But he still turned away 34 of 36 shots, including four in overtime, to seal the 3-2 win.
"I thought he was real good for us; he made some key saves," said head coach Mike Babcock, who gave Luongo the nod after Brodeur's shaky performance in a 5-3 loss to the U.S. in the final round-robin game. "He made a huge save to prevent the Americans from scoring first. I don't know exactly what happened. One of their guys ended up in the slot and he got his pad out.
"To score first was a huge deal in a game like today, especially if you're the home team."
Luongo, 30, had the bonus of playing in his home rink, where the familiar growls of "Luuu" echoed from the crowd almost every time he made a save.
Canadian forward Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks had just started getting used to it.
"I told him I was kind of sick and tired of hearing the 'Luuu' chants when Chicago would come here to Vancouver, but they've never sounded better than tonight," Toews said.
Babcock faced heat for replacing Brodeur after the first Canada-U.S. game, when the three-time Stanley Cup champion stopped only 18 of 23 shots.
Brodeur is also the man who helped Canada win its last Olympic gold in men's hockey at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Luongo backed up Brodeur four years ago at the Turin Games and got into two games, including a 5-1 win over the Germans and a 2-0 loss to Finland. Canada ended up losing the quarter-finals.
But mostly, he has been Canada's backup in international competition, including at the world championship in the 2004-05 NHL lockout season and at the 2004 World Cup. He helped Canada win World Cup gold after stepping in for an injured Brodeur in the semifinals, winning 4-3 in overtime against the Czech Republic.
The knock against Luongo, who has racked up excellent NHL regular-season numbers, is that he has never carried those performances into the playoffs, where he is 11-11 over his 10-year career.
In two post-season runs, he has never led a team past the second round and the memories of Chicago putting seven goals behind Luongo in one game during last year's playoffs still linger.
Sid the Kid nets winner
On Sunday, Luongo's long-awaited resume entry of "big-game winner" wasn't complete until Sidney Crosby scored the winner seven minutes and 40 seconds into overtime.
Those who weren't sold on Luongo's credentials had been given more fuel after Zach Parise slipped the puck past him to tie the game with 25 seconds left in the third period.
Even U.S. forward Ryan Kesler, Luongo's Canucks teammate, thought the Canadian goalie looked a little unsteady.
"Our plan was to throw pucks on the net," said Kesler, who scored the first goal for the U.S. on Sunday. "It looked like he was fighting it a little bit. He played well though, he was battling in there, and made a couple key saves."
When he was told that the Americans said he looked uncomfortable, Luongo replied that he can't control what other people say about him.
"I'm wearing gold around my neck, I don't really care what they think," he said.
A reporter asked him if Sunday's game was a statement.
"You guys be the judge of that — I've got a gold medal around my neck and nobody can take that away from me," he said. "I've never had a feeling like this. I'm really happy, and I'm happy for everyone in Canada and the people of Vancouver."
At the Vancouver Games, he got off to a good start, notching a 15-save shutout in Canada's first Olympic game against Norway.
On the way to gold, he also won 8-2 over Germany, 7-3 over Russia and 3-2 against Slovakia in a semifinal nail-biter. Still, Luongo gave up one weak goal in each game.
Win should silence critics: Yzerman
Babcock suspected that Luongo might want another crack at the Kesler goal, which snuck behind him off a deflected shot.
"The one where Kesler got the tip, he might have liked to squeeze it," Babcock said.
But Team Canada executive director Steve Yzerman said Sunday's win should finally quiet Luongo's critics.
"It's amazing, all players until you actually win, you're all questioned," said Yzerman, captain of the Detroit Red Wings for more than a decade before he won his first Stanley Cup.
"I went through it for a brief period, Wayne [Gretzky] went through it very briefly, Mario [Lemieux] went through it very briefly — all these guys until you win you have to deal with that.
"I think this will answer some of that question for him, he was in net for a gold-medal winning team and played admirably."