Thursday, June 16, 2011

How Luongo Lost the Stanley Cup for His Team

First of all, congratulations to the Bruins for their first Stanley Cup since 1972.  I don't know if Boston fans could have handled another drought like a certain terrible baseball team once had...and you had to go through some pretty tough teams to put an end to the wait.  Also, cograts to Tim Thomas on being selected MVP, a trophy well earned.

Speaking of tough teams, just about everyone had Vancouver picked to be hoisting the trophy, for what would have been their first time in franchise history, at the end of the season.  In a year where so many teams were so competitive, so close in skill level in both the Eastern and Western conferences, and the playoff contenders weren't decided until the final weekend of play, Vancouver was the one team that seemed to have separated itself from the pack.  In a season where any team could beat any team at any time, Vancouver was the one team in the league expected to win every game.  Led by the Sedin twins, Vancouver was arguably the most consistent (winning) team of the year.

So what happened?

The series came down to goal tending.

As NHL on the Fly analyst Craig Button argued before the playoffs began, Luongo is not a Stanley Cup goalie.

Let's start with consistency.  Going into game seven Wednesday night, Luongo had two shutouts in the Stanley Cup Finals.  He had also been pulled twice.  The amount of goals he had allowed in three games at home: 2.  The amount of goals he had given up in three games on the road: a staggering 15.  Talk about inconsistency. 

How could the Vancouver fans, or more importantly their players, have any faith in a guy who can blank a team one night and then let pucks by him like they were covered in anthrax the next?  I don't think you can.  From a players perspective, when your goalie can at any time and without a moments notice give up four goals in five shots, you start to think and react with a defensive mindset.  Instead of battling for a close loose puck at the blue line, you start to think "I need to get back and play defense."  You stop taking chances, you stop being aggressive, you start worrying what the other guy is going to do to beat you instead of what you can do to beat him.  In other words, instead of playing the game to win, you start playing not to loose, and as anyone will tell you, that is a surefire way to defeat.

Luongo's inconsistency didn't just have an effect on Vancouver's state of mind as a team, which of course I can only speculate about, it had an effect on Vancouver's physical state of being as well.  No need to speculate there.  I watched it happen with my own eyes.  Eddie Olczyk made a comment with about seven minutes to go in the game about the Vancouver defensemen looking exhausted and being beat to every loose puck.  Tim Thomas also made a comment in his on-ice post-game interview about the physicality of the series taking a toll on Vancouver.

How does that relate to Luongo's poor performance?  See, it isn't enough that Luongo won three games in amazing fashion at home, because the Stanley Cup Finals is a long, hard, physical, seven game series...and people get tired.  It doesn't take a doctor to know that the best medicine for being tired is rest, and that is exactly what Luongo's three goals in eight shots in game six gave the Bruins players.  With a comfortable lead, the Bruins first, second, and even third lines all saw a little less ice time than normal in game six, while Vancouver's star players were still out there, grinding out every shift, putting two on the board.  But two wasn't enough.  So in the end, game seven saw a rested Chara, Recchi, and Bergeron for Boston, and a set of twins and one Robert Kesler tired, beaten, and, again speculation on my part, lacking in confidence.

Let me stop and mention something about the confidence of the Bruins here too.  Do you know what else happened when the Bruins top lines were on the bench?  The fourth line for the Bruins came alive.  Congratulations to Thornton and co. for really stepping it up when it was most needed.  They played hard, they put a lot of pressure on the net, they stood their ground against Vancouver's second and third lines.  But the most important thing?  It gave Boston coach Claude Julien confidence that his fourth line could handle more ice time in game seven.  I don't know if you saw that stats after the first period, but the fourth line guys had at least four to six minutes each...more time the first line guys (or the second, or the third) don't have to be out there, more time they can rest.  No wonder then at the end of the game Boston was skating circles around Vancouver.  By the time Luongo went to the bench with around three minutes to play it was almost no challenge at all for Boston to get the puck to the other end and score that fourth and final goal.  The Canucks were out of gas.

Finally, I just want to mention Luongo's remarks.  He said he didn't mean them as an insult, and if you look at the comment as a whole you can sort of see where he's coming from, but here's the thing, it just doesn't matter.  You don't trash another teams goalie.  The only hockey I ever played was at the street level, but even there, you didn't attack the other teams goalie, verbally or otherwise.  It would be very painful for you, even amongst friends.  You think the Bruins treated the Canucks like friends?

Not to mention Thomas.   I think Thomas is a great interviewee because his answers are well thought out and he articulates them well, and as far as the media was concerned he seemed to have brushed the comment aside, even joking around a little (pumping the tires).  But rumors from the locker room suggested he was actually pretty upset about what Luongo said.  If that was true, do you think it broke Thomas' spirit, or made him play harder?  No way to know, mostly because I don't know Thomas' true reaction to the comment.  But what I do know is that Thomas led his team to 5-2 and a 4-0 victories after the comments were made.  So at best they had no effect and Thomas just played to his usual awesomeness, at worst, Luongo helped build the wall that stopped Vancouver from reaching it's first ever Cup.

So there you have it, my take on how Luongo lost the Stanley Cup Finals for his team.  You could argue that players win as a team, lose as a team, that he needed more goal support, Raymond was out, blah blah blah...but don't, because in the end, Luongo, who so aptly pointed out that HE was one win away from the Stanley Cup, not the team, he very much said "I" in an interview before game six, let the team down.  HE, apparently, was two games away from losing it as well.

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