InGoal Update: Luongo passed over on wacky day for goalies
Plus Boucher comes off bench to backstop Philly to Game 7; Sharks sticking with Antti Niemi after being pulled twice; Emery’s amazing stick stop can’t save Anaheim; and more in the April 25 update.
To say Sunday was an odd one in the world of NHL goaltending would be an understatement.
It started with the Philadelphia Flyers turning to Michael Leighton, who spent the season in the AHL and started the playoffs in the press box, to start a must-win Game 6 in Buffalo, then winning despite having to pull him for Brian Boucher after three goals on just eight shots.
Turns out things were just getting warmed up in Wacky World, where Flyers goaltending is often on the marquee.
The Canucks provided the headline act on this day. After taking only minutes to declare recently torched Roberto Luongo the Game 6 starter – and answering all further inquiries on the matter with strong statements about his franchise goaltender – Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault chose to start rookie Cory Schneider instead.
The fun didn’t stop there. Because just in case benching a goaltender in the first season of a 12-year, $64-million contract, who was named a Vezina Trophy finalist as the league’s top goaltender just two days earlier, in favour of a rookie backup who had never started an NHL playoff game wasn’t wild enough, Schneider cramped up badly.
On a penalty shot. In the third period. After giving up the tying goal on said shot. Forcing Luongo to come in cold out of the locker room – for some reason, explained as a lack of room by the team despite Schneider sitting there in Games 3 and 4 and overtime – and try to help his team avoid giving up a 3-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
If Hollywood wrote Sunday’s puck-stopping script, no one would have believed it.
The only thing left, after Luongo was beaten on a rebound late in overtime after an awkward lunging deflection save, is to see who starts Game 7 on Tuesday night. Vigneault wasn’t saying, not that it would have mattered.
“If I tell you, will you believe me?” Vigneault said. “All year long we used both goaltenders. To tell you the truth, I just went with the gut and I thought Cory could give us a real good game tonight, but unfortunately he cramped up and we had to take him out in the third. It was a gut feeling.”
Vigneault, like most Canucks fans and Luongo, probably have a different feeling down there now.
Schneider looked good stopping pucks, including an early Patrick Kane breakaway and a long 5-on-3 disadvantage, but turned two over behind his net that led directly to Chicago goals.
“It’s frustrating to gift them two goals where you get caught out of the net,” Schneider said. “They didn’t earn those goals, they fell into them. A team like that you can’t give them an inch and we gifted them two.”
Luongo made a couple good saves under tough circumstances, especially with the Canucks carrying play for most of the third period and overtime, making it tough for him to establish any kind of rhythm. But he looked like a guy who watched most of the game on TV, and did nothing to erase the playoff ghosts against Chicago, including two straight playoff eliminations, and two straight hooks in Game 4 and 5 after 10 goals on 40 shots in less than 65 minutes.
Not getting the start had to be crushing, but he handled it pretty well with the media afterwards.
“It’s a team game,” Luongo said. “Me and Schneids, we had the best goaltending duo all year long. Obviously I put the team ahead of myself first, so I want to win this game just as much anyone.”
As for Game 7, Schneider insisted he’d be ready after receiving intravenous fluids to help the cramps.
“I’ve had problems with it in the past (with cramping),” he said. “When I was in the American League, the same exact thing happened in a playoff game and I had to come out in the third. I thought we got it under control, but in my first playoff start there’s some nervous energy and you sweat a little more in a hot building. The 5-on-3 kind of takes a lot out of you a lot of things can happen. They put a couple of IVs in me and I was back on the bench during the overtime in case something happened to Lou and I was forced into action.”
(Editor’s note: Goalies, be sure to read the InGoal interview with Dr. Lawrence Spriet from the University of Guelph and Gatorade Sport Science Research on how to stay hydrated when you play between the pipes.)
Which also says something about Luongo’s absence from the bench earlier, and perhaps his mental state. He is an extremely proud man, and this has to sting. If the Canucks somehow recover to avoid becoming just the fourth team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 series lead, Luongo will be back in goal the next round.
If not, and he watches his team eliminated from the sidelines, this wacky tale is just getting started.
Meanwhile in Buffalo, it’s same-old story for Flyers
The concept of two goalies and out-of-nowhere surprises is hardly new in the post-lockout NHL, not with Anaheim using both Ilya Bryzgalov and Jean-Sebastien Giguere in 2007, Carolina also getting wins from both Cam Ward and Martin Gerber the year before, and Antti Niemi’s emergence for these same Chicago Blackhawks last season.
The Flyers have tried it as well, getting to Game 6 of the Finals last season with the duo of Boucher and Leighton, who came to them as a mid-season waiver wire pick up. He needed to clear re-entry waivers this season just to join them for the post-season after spending most of the year back in the AHL. Maybe that history made it easier to go back to Leighton to start Game 6 after he replaced a porous Boucher in Game 5, but lost it in overtime.
Either way, Boucher wanted to play and figures to be back in for Game 7.
“You’re excited to live another day,” he said after the 5-4 overtime win Sunday. “I wanted to get the start. I felt like it’s been a pretty good series aside from three minutes, for myself, but that was the decision that was made and you have to stay ready and I was able to get back in there and fortunately it worked out. We want to win this series. Obviously that’d be the nice icing on the cake to get to the next round, but I guess from a personal standpoint, yeah, it feels good to have gotten back in there and I make wrong right, I guess.”
Sharks sticking with Niemi after consecutive hooks
The Sharks felt good going into the postseason behind Niemi, the reigning Stanley Cup winning goalie.
But after pulling Niemi for the second time in the series – and after three goals on just four shots, a deficit from which San Jose could not recover – over the weekend, there were questions about whether Antero Niittymaki might be back in the Sharks net for Game 6 on Monday. The answer is no. Nemo gets another shot.
“He is our guy,” head coach Todd McLellan said. “Last year, this year, anytime he’s had a bad game, he’s come back. We don’t expect him to be perfect. We expect him to be a little bit better, and I think he expects that of himself.”
Niemi isn’t planning any drastic changes to his game after reviewing video of his last start, joking that it was a short session, but after adding more patience on the skates in San Jose this season, says he needs to show it now.
“Just be a little more challenging when they get a chance to shoot,” Niemi told the San Jose Mercury News. “I’ve got to stay on the top of the crease when they’ve got the puck. That’s pretty much all I can take from that game.”
Still, as bad as Niemi has looked at times in this series, which the Sharks are lucky to lead, expect a short leash.
Emery goes down swinging in Anaheim
Ray Emery’s remarkable comeback season is over after the Ducks were eliminated by Nashville on Sunday, but the always combative stopper didn’t go down without a fight and a highlight reel save:
Emery is an unrestricted free agent this summer, and the Ducks have both vertigo-plagued No.1 Jonas Hiller and Dan Ellis under contract already. But Emery shouldn’t have a problem finding an NHL job elsewhere after his strong showing down the stretch, even if he appeared stiff and slow to recover at times during the playoffs.