BOSTON — Although Roberto Luongo is receiving much of the blame for Vancouver’s two-game meltdown in Boston during the Stanley Cup finals, the Canucks refuse to allow their goalie to take the heat alone.
Most of the 12 goals he allowed in just over five periods weren’t his fault, defenseman Kevin Bieksa claimed. Luongo might have been pulled from a crucial Game 4, but the star goalie will get himself together in time for Game 5 on Friday night, captain Henrik Sedin promised.
If only the Canucks had provided that much support to Luongo on the ice, maybe they wouldn’t be headed home with their series lead completely evaporated.
“These were the same questions Boston got after they lost two games, and they found a way,” Sedin said. “We need to do the same thing.”
No matter what spin is applied by the Canucks, Boston goalie Tim Thomas has thoroughly outplayed his fellow Vezina Trophy nominee through four games in the finals, which are even heading back to Vancouver.
While no goalie bears sole responsibility for his play, even Vancouver’s most faithful fans realize Luongo is struggling after allowing seven goals on the last 23 shots he faced in Boston.
Luongo reportedly was jeered by the crowds at public game-watching parties back in Vancouver when coach Alain Vigneault finally pulled him from Game 4 early in the third period.
Luongo was fidgety and quiet afterward, clearly eager to get away from Boston and hoping his blue home jersey will help restore what he lacked.
“Last time I checked, it’s 2-2 in the series, so I don’t see why we should be depressed,” Luongo said Thursday. “We’re in a two-out-of-three Stanley Cup Finals. If I was told that before the start of the year, I mean, where do I sign?”
The Canucks needed just one win to earn the chance to parade the Cup around home ice. Now they’ll need to win Game 5 just to stop the Bruins’ impressive momentum behind Thomas, who looks increasingly unbeatable after giving up one goal in two home games.
He posted his third shutout of the playoffs in the Bruins’ 4-0 victory in Game 4, and has quieted doubters of his aggressive style with a preposterous 1.26 goals-against average and a .966 save percentage in the finals, stopping 141 of 146 shots in four games.
“I felt like that for a lot of this year,” Thomas said. “I have felt so good in the finals so far. I’m just going to keep doing the same thing that I’ve been doing to try to have the same success that I’ve had. Between games, I try to get as much rest as I possibly can and keep my body as maintained as possible.”
For the third consecutive season, the home teams have won the first four games of the Stanley Cup finals — but the Canucks have no time to lament their scoring drought or Luongo’s crisis of confidence. If Vancouver can’t recover from a disastrous trip to Boston before Friday night, Thomas and the surging Bruins just might steamroll them on the way to a title.
“I think we’re giving Thomas too much respect,” Bieksa said. “He’s leaky. Pucks go through him. We’ve seen it all year. We just need to put more pucks on him.”
The Canucks’ problems in front of Luongo stem from injuries that forced them to mix-and-match defensemen into three new pairings this series. Although teams refuse to discuss injuries at this point in the season, the Canucks also are running out of healthy players.
Center Ryan Kesler, a stellar playoff performer and the leader of Vancouver’s shutdown defensive line, has played with a fraction of his usual disruptive force in the finals while apparently nursing an undisclosed problem. Puck-moving defenseman Christian Ehrhoff has an injured shoulder that’s preventing him from shooting the puck with his usual vigor.
And those are just the players healthy enough to suit up. The Canucks’ biggest loss has been Dan Hamhuis, the versatile veteran defenseman who hasn’t played since hurting himself delivering a check in Game 1.
Without Hamhuis and suspended defenseman Aaron Rome, the Canucks’ offense was hampered in Game 4 by an inability to move quickly up the ice in transition. Vancouver’s aggressive offense is built on its cadre of mobile, puck-moving defensemen, but the Canucks no longer have the manpower to do everything they desire.
“We didn’t expect to sweep these guys,” Bieksa said. “We have to focus on the positives, and can’t hang our heads. If we come out the next game and score three (goals) in the first, no one will remember these games.”
Vancouver still isn’t getting much from the Sedin twins, who have largely disappeared at the biggest moment in their careers. Boston defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg deserve much of the credit for preventing the Sedins from passing and shooting with their usual fluid teamwork, holding the NHL’s last two scoring champions to two points in four games.
“It’s playoff hockey. Not always one line that decides it,” Luongo said. “If we have to win a game 1-0 like we did in Game 1, then that’s what we’ll have to do.”
At least the Canucks have experience in coming back from embarrassing losses during this postseason. After taking a 3-0 lead on the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round, they lost the next two games by a combined 12-2 — and then lost Game 6 with a start by Luongo’s backup, Cory Schneider.
Vancouver hung on to win Game 7 in overtime, and the Canucks don’t expect this breakthrough to be any easier.
“Lou is going to be fine,” Vigneault said of Luongo. “He’s one of the best goaltenders in the league. We’ve got a lot of trust and faith in him, in his ability to play well.”