To seize everything you ever wanted in one moment …
Would you capture it or just let it slip?”
We’re not sure if Roberto Luongo was listening to Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” two days after being benched for a Game 6 of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Chicago Blackhawks, but those opening lyrics sure fit.
The Canucks standout stopper wouldn’t reveal exactly what he was on the playlist when he pulled a hoodie over his head, slid in the earphones and went out for a stroll in the hours leading up to the decisive Game 7. Luongo would only say it was a “music speech that pumps me up,” and it “was not Celine Dion or anything,” but he did make it pretty clear that head-down, head-clearing afternoon walk around Vancouver’s seawall may have saved him, the season, and a lot of Canucks jobs.
It wasn’t the only thing Luongo did to try and get over having become the $10-million bench warmer. With less than 48 hours to move past that shock — and the shock and awe that led to being pulled from the previous two games — and get ready for the next game with the season on the line, Loungo said he “talked to a lot of people, did some stuff on my own, talked to brothers, family, everybody I pretty much knew.’’
Then he went for the walk.
“The main thing that got me over the hump was — and I do this rarely — but on game day I went for a long walk after the meal and just listened to some music for 23 minutes and tried to get in a zone there,” Luongo said. “That could have easily went sour. If I show up for that game and I’m not in the right frame of mind and we lose, all of a sudden things are a lot more chaotic. I heard Dwayne Roloson say the other day you’ve got to have amnesia in this game, so that’s what it’s all about. You’ve got to forget quick.”
That hasn’t typically been Luongo’s biggest strength in Vancouver. There have been times he’s hung onto criticism for months, throwing it back at the media long after most had forgotten about it. But after the walk he was able to move on.
“Sometimes that’s what it takes to put things in perspective,” Luongo said of a stroll he only took one other time this season. “At the end of the day, I was playing a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup playoffs and that’s all it’s about. Obviously there was some ups and downs before that but I was in the playoffs, playing in the NHL, so there was no reason for me to be down.”
If this seems melodramatic — and Luongo is no stranger to drama in Vancouver — consider what the Canucks’ stopper was trying to move past. Ventilated for two straight games as his chief rivals, a team that knocked him from the previous two playoffs in lopsided fashion, were allowed to get to the middle of the ice and pick corners on his deeper positioning, Luongo was not only left on the sidelines to start Game 6, but he ended up losing that game too, again in storybook fashion (if his biographer is Stephen King).
Rookie backup Cory Schneider cramped up badly failing to stop a third period penalty shot that tied the game, and Luongo lost it in overtime after stopping the first 12 shots he faced, looking off balance on ending on his belly as the winning goal was scored. And that was with no time to think about the circumstances. But there were plenty of empty hours for soul searching before Game 7, especially since Luongo, contrary to what coach Alain Vigneault said, believed he was back in goal only because Schneider got hurt.
(Vigneault said Luongo was told he’d start the next game, whether Game 7 or Game 1 of the second round, but Luongo doesn’t remember it that way. Of course, as two NHL goalie coaches have since told InGoal they’ve had a lot of conversations with goalies that don’t remember a thing they say beyond “you’re not playing.” The rest sounds like the teacher in Charlie Brown).
“I’m not going to lie it was a tough spot to be in,” Luongo said. “You have to find it yourself.”
He made 31 saves in Game 7, including a sliding blocker stop of Patrick Sharp’s backdoor power play one-timer in overtime, allowing good friend Alex Burrows to score the winner a few minutes later, extending the season and saving jobs on a team that was on the verge of an epic playoff collapse. Since the walk, Luongo is 9-3 with a .935 save percentage and a 1.88-goals-against average. More importantly he’ll play for the Stanley Cup for the first time in an 11-year career plagued with over-analysis and outside doubts.
“One month ago I was sitting on the bench, and a month later I’m in the final, that’s the first thing you think about,” Luongo said when asked if his mind wanders back in the seven days off after eliminating San Jose with 54 saves through double-OT.
Luongo said he has undoubtedly become mentally stronger in that month.
“On the mental side of the game for sure no doubt, you learn from your experiences and I’ve been through a lot in these playoffs, so I would like to think I’ve got better mental strength than I did before,” he said. “You always here people say it’s tough and it’s a grind, but until you go through it you never know. I’d say it’s more of a mental battle than a physical one, just because the ups and downs of the playoffs. When you win a game you feel like you are on top of the world, when you lose one you feel like you are going to lose a series. It’s a mental thing to be able to refocus and reset after after game no matter whether you win or lose.”
And no matter what others might be saying about you.
“I have learned how to deal with that stuff and not let it affect me as much as it did at the beginning,” Luongo said. “Obviously you always want to be viewed in a positive way, but you also know that’s impossible sometimes in this type of market. I don’t play for those people, I play for myself, for my teammates, for my family and friends and the people that support me. At the end of the day I want to win a Stanley Cup and I want to do it with the guys in this locker room, so whatever is being said out there is not in my control and I can’t worry about that stuff. … At the end of the day, you put in the work and you are not always going to be successful, but the main thing is you’ve got to pick yourself back up and get back to work.
“It doesn’t matter how may times you get knocked down. The only thing that matters is the number of times you get back up.”
All of which sounds a lot like the theme of Eminem’s tune, whether Luongo listened to it or not on that walk:
“You better lose yourself in the music, the moment
You own it, you better never let it go
You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow
This opportunity comes once in a lifetime yo.”