By: Samir Javer
Everyone knows the story of how it went down in Boston last June. Outscored 17-3 in the three games in Beantown, the Canucks saw their 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final suddenly vanish from their hands.
The TD Garden became Roberto Luongo’s new “house of horrors” after the star goalie and his teammates erased all their bad memories from the United Center in Chicago after finally defeating the Blackhawks in an epic first-round matchup.
The pipe dream of a first-ever Stanley Cup in the team’s 40th anniversary season disappeared in those three games in Boston, as Canucks fans were stuck with the gaping reality that they had just had one of the most epic collapses in NHL playoff history.
But that’s the beauty of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expect the unexpected.
And sure enough, who would’ve even imagined that Roberto Luongo would only last 8 minutes and 35 seconds in Game 6, which could’ve clinched the Cup for the Canucks?
Young backup netminder Cory Schneider was summoned to take over at the wheel, and to his credit, played respectably well, yet the Canucks failed to get the job done, losing by a score of 5-2, setting up a Game 7 in Vancouver that would be historic, one way or another.
Game 7 was indeed Luongo’s from start to finish, and with his team unable to put the puck past Vezina and Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, the Canucks netminder let three subpar goals past him, an empty-netter only adding to the team’s misery.
But it’s a new season; a year. The Canucks and Bruins are back on top as two of the league’s elite teams; since November 1, Boston has gone 23-3-1, while Vancouver has gone 20-8-1.
Saturday afternoon marks the first time these teams will have met since Game 7 on June 15, and it is the only time they will meet during the regular season.
With a shot at redemption on the line, one would undoubtedly assume Alain Vigneault would call upon Luongo to get the job done. Right?
At about 12:30 PM local time, the Canucks’ bench boss announced Cory Schneider, not Roberto Luongo, had been given the starting job for Saturday’s matinee game in Boston. This came as a surprise, and frankly a shock, to many.
Vigneault claimed his primary reason for giving the 25-year-old the start was because Boston was his hometown, and he would have lots of friends and family members at the game; it was a golden opportunity for him to shine.
That’s all very nice and heartwarming, but what’s next? As the Vancouver Sun’s Brad Ziemer noted on Twitter, is Andrew Alberts going to run the first-unit powerplay simply because of his connections to Boston College?
In my humble opinion, the Canucks really dropped the ball on this one. We’re all well aware that Luongo is not a fan of early-morning starts, and Schneider hasn’t played in a while, but why play the backup on Saturday?
There’s a gaping opportunity for Schneider to play in Tampa Bay on Tuesday in the second half of back-to-back for the Canucks, who play in Florida on Monday.
While some may argue Schneider will give the Canucks the better chance to earn the precious two points (which is a completely valid point), the bottom line is, Luongo needs to exercise his demons on the ice in the TD Garden from this past June.
This is the only game the Canucks will play Boston this season, so what happens if they draw each other in the Cup Final again?
Roberto will be no more comfortable tending the net at the TD Garden than he was 365 days ago.
Had Luongo gotten the start and gotten shelled in Beantown yet again by a lopsided score tomorrow, Vigneault’s logic would have made sense. It’s high risk-high reward, as some might say.
While the Canucks are downplaying it as “just another regular-season game”, at the end of the day, every Canucks and Bruins fan had this circled on their calendars ever since the schedule came out. It means a little bit more to everyone.
The psychological aspect would be severely more drastic if Luongo got beaten up like the Flames did, 9-0, on Thursday night.
However if Luongo stole the show in Boston, his confidence would have sky-rocketed, and he and the team would ultimately be in a better position should the Canucks draw the Bruins next June.
But for now, the task remains on the shoulders of young Cory Schneider, who will have to lead the charge tomorrow afternoon in what is sure to be a clash of epic proportions.