Tuesday, April 10, 2007

That's not Booing, but Louiing you hear

It used to be that Lui Passaglia was the toast of the town in Vancouver, back in the halcyon days of BC Lions Grey Cup victories, the crowd was known to chant the always popular LOUUUUIE whenever he took to the field.

Fast forward a decade or so and there's a new LOU in town, and this one hears the accolades whenever he leads his Vancouver Canucks onto the ice.

This season the Canucks have played a more consistent team game, no one player bigger than the other. It's an approach led by the even hand of Alain Vigneault that has led the Canucks to their third place finish and champions of the Northwest Division.

And while the team approach and subsequent success has been a welcome surprise, there is still one undeniable factor in each and every Canuck game. Roberto Luongo makes the difference!

The off season acquisition that should forever enshrine Dave Nonis in the hearts of Canuck fans, has long since paid for his top talent salary. When Luongo takes to the ice with the Canucks, there is a quiet confidence in the line up, players that know they can take a chance up the ice, they are a team that never feels that it's out of a game and a squad that thrives off the talents of its goaltender.

The possibilities for success for the Canucks in this playoff season seem brighter than they have in years, as goes Luongo so go the Canucks. He has proven this year to be one of the most talented goaltenders to come along in years, not a surprise for hockey observers who watched him in Florida and wondered what if he had a decent team in front of him.

We'll soon find out as the Canucks take on the Stars in the first round of the playoffs, the Stars had best bring earplugs, they'll be hearing a lot of LOUS on Wednesday.

Grant Kerr of the Globe and Mail has an interesting look at Luongo, as he prepares to take to his post season stage.

Luongo relishes the role of new sheriff in town
From Tuesday's Globe and Mail

VANCOUVER — There's a new flag-bearer on the West Coast about to carry the colours of the Vancouver Canucks and the orca whale logo into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Roberto Luongo has replaced Markus Naslund as the face of the franchise, rapidly rising in popularity with each victory during a season when he won 47 times and all but twice while the Canucks were taking the Northwest Division of the National Hockey League by storm.

The Canucks won 32 times after Christmas and Luongo had 30 of the victories, giving Vancouver its best goaltending since Kirk McLean took the Canucks to the seventh game of the 1994 Stanley Cup final against the New York Rangers.

Luongo has rewritten the club record book during his first campaign in Vancouver after not making it to the NHL postseason during his long apprenticeship, that being one season with the New York Islanders and six in a Florida Panthers uniform.

For the Canucks to have an extended playoff run — they've not been past the second round since 1994 — Luongo will have to carry the workload after appearing in 76 of Vancouver's 82 games.

Luongo claims he's up to the challenge, just as he was at the start of the schedule when he put making the playoffs ahead of individual goals. It didn't matter to him that he equalled the NHL's former record for wins in a season, which was surpassed by Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils.

Brodeur had 48 wins, one more than Luongo.

Luongo has been a godsend for a franchise that's gone through far more goaltenders than coaches since McLean retired in 1998.

The Canucks tried Garth Snow, Corey Hirsch, Kevin Weekes, Felix Potvin, Corey Schwab, Alfie Michaud, Dan Cloutier, Bob Essensa, Alex Auld, Petr Skudra, Tyler Moss, Johan Hedberg, Rob McVicar, Maxime Ouellet and Mika Noronen before landing Luongo.

General manager Dave Nonis pulled off the heist of the season when he got Luongo from Florida. He came with defenceman Lukas Krajicek for Todd Bertuzzi, Auld and Bryan Allen on the eve of the 2006 NHL entry draft.

Nonis massaged Luongo with a four-year contract that averages $6.75-million (U.S.), a sum that now seems reasonable after Luongo was 47-22-6, with a goals-against average of 2.29 and a .921 save percentage.

Luongo still has a ways to go before being recognized as the best goaltender in franchise history. Richard Brodeur in 1982 and McLean a dozen years later took the Canucks to the Stanley Cup final.

Brodeur didn't win a single game against the New York Islanders, while McLean won 15 times in the 1994 run before the Canucks lost the final game 3-2 to the Rangers.

Vancouver fans have anointed Luongo, 28, with the nickname Bobby Lu, just as Brodeur was called King Richard and McLean went by Captain Kirk.

The litmus test for Luongo will begin with the first-round matchup against the Dallas Stars and another top netminder, Marty Turco.

Turco has the advantage in postseason experience, appearing in 22 NHL playoff games. He has a losing record, 8-14, including a 1-4 log a year ago when Dallas was upset in the first round by the Colorado Avalanche.

Luongo has a blank sheet for NHL playoffs, with his last postseason exposure seven years ago in the minor leagues when he played for Lowell in the American Hockey League, going 3-3.

It will take more than the puck-stopping ability of Luongo for the Canucks to get past Dallas, starting Wednesday at General Motors Place. Vancouver needs Naslund to regain form after his worst goal-scoring season in eight NHL campaigns.

The team captain scored only 24 times and was relegated to second-line status with the rise of the Sedin brothers, Daniel and Henrik, as prime-time offensive players.

The whistling wrist shot of years gone by went missing and Naslund often showed his frustration by unleashing wild slap shots, hardly what local fans came to expect from someone who wears the captaincy letter.

The series figures to be tight — each team won twice in the regular season, all by 2-1 margins — leaving Luongo and Turco in the spotlight.

Bobby Lu wouldn't want it any other way as he experiences a dream come true.

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