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Yet Luongo's superlatives almost inevitably seem to get swiped aside like a routine kick save. After Canada's Olympic triumph, the first postgame question for Luongo was about the stellar play of U.S. goalie Ryan Miller, who was voted the tournament's outstanding player. When the assembled media finally asked Luongo about his own play, the question concerned the tying goal he gave up to U.S. forward Zach Parise with 24.4 seconds to play. This spring, after Luongo blanked the Predators 1--0 in the opener of Vancouver's second-round series, the first three questions he fielded from reporters were about Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne, who had made 29 saves to Luongo's 20, including several highlight-reel stops. Luongo, then, is Rodney Dangerfield on skates. "It's a phenomenon I can't explain or even appreciate," says Canucks G.M. Mike Gillis. "Roberto sets such a high standard that if he does let in a goal people don't expect, he gets criticized more than anybody else."
It's easy to take Luongo for granted. In amassing a league-high 117 points, Vancouver won the first Presidents' Trophy in franchise history and led the league in both goals (262) and goals-against (185). Given the Canucks' powerhouse roster—which includes forward Henrik Sedin, last season's winner of the Hart Trophy as league MVP; his twin brother and linemate, Daniel, a finalist for this year's award; emerging star Ryan Kesler; and a steady defense that runs six deep—Luongo's successes are often overlooked. "What the hell else does he have to do?" asks Canucks winger Alex Burrows. "I know: Win a Stanley Cup. When we win, people think the puck stops itself. No, it's Roberto. I think he's the best goalie in the world." Burrows rightfully points to Luongo's seventh-game 2--1 overtime triumph last month against the Blackhawks, his postseason nemesis, in the first round. The game was a tightrope walk for him, coming as it did after the Canucks had blown a 3--0 series lead and Vigneault had pulled Luongo in Games 4 and 5. "He was such a fighter in that game," says Burrows of Luongo's 31-save performance. "He played his mind out for us."
But Luongo has mixed the remarkable with the rotten before. In 2007 he placed second in Hart Trophy voting and his playoff numbers were brilliant (1.77, .941). In a second-round 2--1 double-overtime loss to the Ducks that eliminated Vancouver from the playoffs, he stopped 56 of 58 shots. But he is most remembered for missing the opening 3:34 of the first overtime because he was in the bathroom with an upset stomach. He compounded his problems with a more catastrophic howler in the second overtime. When Canucks forward Jannik Hansen took a huge hit from Anaheim's Rob Niedermayer, Luongo turned to the officials to plead for a penalty. At almost the same moment, Niedermayer's teammate and brother, Scott, floated a soft 60-footer from the blue line into the net, as a distracted and apparently unaware Luongo looked and pointed in the direction of the hit.
Though Luongo claims to turn a deaf ear to criticism, he said last Thursday, "The great thing about the Olympics is that we were in the Village, so we didn't have to hear all that stuff." Two seasons ago, Farhan Lalji, a correspondent for TSN, Canada's version of ESPN, aired a generally positive piece that critiqued Luongo's inconsistent puckhandling. A full year later, Luongo spotted Lalji in the dressing room after a victory and asked him, "Farhan, when are you going to do a story about my puckhandling now?"
Luongo, generally a pleasant man, has at times tried to play along with his critics with clever humor. After he allowed one goal in a victory over the Blackhawks in the opener of Vancouver's second-round playoff series last spring, Chicago's forwards, especially Dustin Byfuglien, launched a full-frontal assault on Luongo's space and psyche, spraying him with ice shavings, bumping him, poking at him and creating rugby scrums in the crease. The Blackhawks eventually downed Vancouver in six games for the second straight year. In December, Luongo appeared on TSN dressed as a distinguished university professor—wearing eyeglasses down on the bridge of his nose and sporting a scarf and argyle cardigan—to read some playful poems, one of which he addressed to Byfuglien, who had since moved on to the Thrashers:
Human eclipse, rhinoceros hips.
Who will laugh last when I slash your calf?
Bring me peace. Make it cease.
Get your big ass out of my crease.
In the off-season Gillis picked up stay-at-home defenseman Dan Hamhuis to solidify the Canucks' blue line. More important, the G.M. also brought in goalie coach Roland Melanson, who immediately set out to make Luongo less susceptible to physical contact, as well as to the anxiety that goes with it. Melanson persuaded Luongo to stand nearly 18 inches deeper in his crease, rather than exposing himself by playing at its edge or beyond. "We want him to minimize his distractions on the ice, [to] live and die in the paint," says Melanson, who won three Cups as Billy Smith's backup with the Islanders.