Roberto Luongo was pulled in favor of Cory Schneider during the second period of Game 5 against Chicago. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty Images)
It wouldn’t be an easy decision, but if the Vancouver Canucks management lost their minds and named me coach of the team effective immediately, I’d turn to Cory Schneider in Game 6.
And that’s a strange stance from yours truly, as I’m usually a supporter of Luongo. When he’s been called overrated and charged with not living up to his massive contract, I’ve defended him.
Last season when Luongo was pulled in Game 3 of Vancouver’s series with Los Angeles, I did my best to quell the notion Luongo was going to lead the Canucks to an early dismissal. I was a strong believer in him being Team Canada’s goalie even before Martin Brodeur lost the job in 2010 and I voted Luongo as a Vezina finalist when THN debated our awards. I believe Luongo is one of the best goalies of his generation who got stuck in Florida for too long, though he’ll never be recognized as such until he wins a Cup or at least carries a team through a few series.
But against the Chicago Blackhawks, Luongo just isn’t the goalie I’ve come to support time and again - this version is a Mr. Hyde mutant.
At the start of this series, Luongo was playing with superior confidence. He looked strong and big between the pipes and at one point stared down Brent Seabrook who was in front of the net after the goalie made a save. You got the feeling he couldn’t be beat.
But the past two games the other Luongo has showed up. It appears the Blackhawks, having scored 10 goals on their last 40 shots on Luongo, have the goalie’s number again. If the past set any precedence, when that happens, the Canucks are in trouble. Not to say the fact this series is still going on is all Luongo’s fault - the Canucks have stopped skating around him - but such a big part of a goalie’s preparation is based on the mental aspect and Luongo is fighting an uphill battle in that department against his arch-nemesis.
I’d turn to Schneider for Game 6 mainly because of Luongo’s recent struggles, but also because Vancouver’s former captain just doesn’t enjoy the United Center. Last year’s seven-goal drubbing that ended Vancouver’s season is still fresh in everyone’s mind, including Luongo. If ‘Bobby Lou’ starts and implodes in Game 6, what does that do for his shaky confidence going into a one-game, winner-take-all showdown?
Schneider has had post-season success before, taking the American League’s Manitoba Moose to the Calder Cup final with a 2.15 GAA and .922 SP. He’s accomplished and a highly regarded prospect who had a terrific year when he did step in for Luongo. And, as our goalie coach blogger Mike Rosati wrote recently, sometimes being relegated to the backup role can inspire and motivate a young, talented ‘tender.
If I’m wrong and the Canucks get blown out again? Well, go back to Luongo for Game 7. He'd be hungrier than ever to prove his worth in front of Canucks fans and pull one out for the team. Heck, even if the Canucks win Game 6 in a 30-save shutout for Schneider, I’d go back with my Vezina finalist for Game 1 of the second round.
It’s just something about these Blackhawks that doesn’t mix well with Luongo. While there is no way this lineup change will happen under coach Alain Vigneault, it’s one I believe in.
Worst-case scenario is you head home with a No. 1 goalie fighting for his pride. Best-case scenario is you move on to Round 2 and overcome the Chicago nightmare once and for all.
Rory Boylen is TheHockeyNews.com's web editor. His blog appears regularly only on THN.com.
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