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Canucks prepare to carry on without injured goaltender Roberto Luongo

Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, center, is helped off the ice by teammates Ryan Kesler, rear, and Taylor Pyatt (9) after being injured in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gene J. Puskar

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Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, center, is helped off the ice by teammates Ryan Kesler, rear, and Taylor Pyatt (9) after being injured in the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Gene J. Puskar

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The strained groin suffered by Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo isn't as bad as he first feared, but the star netminder can't say how long he'll be out of action.

The Canucks said Monday that Luongo, the backbone of the franchise who is having an all-star calibre year, is listed as week-to-week after being injured Saturday in Pittsburgh.

His agent, Gilles Lupien, told cyberpresse.ca in Montreal that the Canucks captain would be out four to five weeks.

"We don't know," Luongo told a news conference Monday night after he met with team doctors and had an MRI. "It's the first time I've had an injury like this.

"I'll be working hard with the training staff and the medical guys, try to get it back as soon as possible, but I really don't know how long it's going to take."

Luongo left the ice in Pittsburgh dragging his left leg while supported by teammates, but he walked into the news conference at GM Place.

"It's not as painful as two days ago so that's a good start. Pretty much I can't really be moving it around at all without feeling any pain.

"Walking has just got comfortable for me right now so it's improving every day but there's still a little ways to go."

Luongo was hurt when he tried to react to a point shot early in the Canucks' 3-1 win.

He said Monday that there's a sense of relief the injury isn't as bad as originally feared.

"It was definitely a relief but after Sunday and speaking to the doctors a little bit, I kind of knew it wasn't as bad but you never know until you get the MRI," he said. "I was happy to hear the results."

Rehab has already started with icing and other treatments and the team is preparing to carry on without its star netminder.

"You never want to see your captain go down, especially a player of his calibre and being the best player on our team," forward Ryan Kesler said prior to Monday night's game against the Detroit Red Wings. "It definitely hurts but we've got to move on."

With Luongo out of action, the bulk of the work will fall to backup Curtis Sanford, who got off to a good start Monday making 32 saves in Vancouver's 3-2 overtime win over the Red Wings.

"Our players play well in front of Curtis and Curtis is an experienced NHL goaltender ... and he'll do a good job for us," coach Alain Vigneault said.

"It's a great challenge for our core players. I think we've responded real well this year when we've been challenged."

Sanford admitted that replacing Luongo won't be easy.

"Obviously there's a lot of pressure but this is what we play for," said Sanford, a journeyman from Owen Sound, Ont. "It's something we embrace. It gets you on your toes and you get out there and play as best you can."

Luongo, 29, the highest-paid Canuck at US$7 million a season, was hurt less than five minutes into Saturday's game. He was kicking out his left pad when Philippe Boucher's point shot changed direction.

He attempted to adjust but ended up face down on the ice in pain for several minutes before being helped to the dressing room.

Sanford finished the game, stopping 17 of 18 shots.

"It's deflating but he's a tough guy," Sanford said of Luongo's injury.

"I tore my groin before, pretty severely, and it wasn't fun. It was four months before I started playing again. You just come to work every day and do whatever you can to get better."

Luongo said his injury is not as serious as Sanford's was.

"It's definitely not the same because I'm able to walk," he said. "He was on crutches for a few weeks."

Luongo, who averages 75 starts a season, was injured in the finale of a four-game road trip where the Northwest Division-leading Canucks won three after losing a shootout to the New York Islanders.

He leads the NHL with five shutouts and was at the peak of his game when the injury occurred.

Earlier this month, he blanked the opposition for a stretch of 232 minutes 36 seconds to top his club record of 201:08 without being scored upon.

Defenceman Shane O'Brien said the club is confident Sanford will shine in his new role.

"He's got big shoes to fill, obviously, in Louie," said O'Brien. "But we're playing as hard as we can and trying to limit their quality scoring chances.

"If we do that we know Curtis will make the saves."

In an unusual pre-season move, the Canucks named Luongo team captain but he wears the C on his mask.

The league does not officially recognize his captaincy and there's no C on his sweater as rules forbid goalies from roaming to the penalty box area to discuss calls with referees.

Sanford, 29, who signed with Vancouver as a free agent two seasons ago, is on a two-game win streak after making 28 saves in a 3-2 win over Minnesota.

His .910 save percentage was held down by a shaky performance in his only other start, a 5-2 loss in Buffalo on Oct. 17.

"Everyone will tell you, especially as a goalie, the more you're in there, the more confident that you'll feel, the more in control you'll feel," Sanford said. "He's irreplaceable, obviously, but we have guys in here who are playing well and guys who are going to step up and do a good job for us."

Notes: The Canucks went 1-2-1 with Sanford in net last December when Luongo had a rib injury ... Luongo follows Martin Brodeur of New Jersey as the second star goalie to be injured this month. Brodeur could be out four months after elbow surgery... The Canucks called up 22-year-old prospect Cory Schneider, their first-round choice in the 2004 entry draft, who has a 10-1 record for the AHL Manitoba Moose.

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