The Goods: Southern hospitality
Not even Roberto Luongo can remember the last time he was in the zone quite like he is these days.
Luongo stopped 30 of 31 shots to backstop the Vancouver Canucks to a 3-1 win over the Atlanta Thrashers Friday night at Philips Arena; the victory counts as Luongo’s NHL-leading 35th, while the win was the seventh consecutive on the road for the Canucks and franchise-high 24th away from home.
Vancouver’s 49th win of the year also pushed the Canucks to 107 points, a new franchise record.
Records are meant to be broken and with Luongo between the pipes, a new team-best in points will likely be re-written a few more times before this season is through.
Luongo was stellar throughout his 56th start of the year with 10 saves in the first and an even more impressive nine in the second period, a frame that saw Mason Raymond and Alex Bolduc score to give the Canucks a 2-0 lead.
In the third it was much of the same from Luongo, whose only blemish came on a breakaway goal against by Bryan Little with 5:30 remaining to spoil his shutout bid.
Don’t expect to hear anything but praise for Luongo on local radio stations for the next little while, unless of course Theoren Fleury gets more airtime.
“Obviously tonight he was the best player on the ice,” said coach Alain Vigneault. “They had some grade-A chances on a couple of occasions there and he made some real good saves. He’s been a great goaltender for a long time and we expect him to a make a difference and on a lot of nights he does.
“I think he’s played this way before and he’s been a good goaltender for a long time. This is his fifth year with the Canucks and he’s had some great games before so it’s nothing, for me anyways, out of the ordinary.”
Luongo’s numbers have been extraordinary as he now sits in third place in the NHL for both save percentage (.927) and goals against average (2.18), but more importantly, he’s giving the Canucks a chance to win every time he’s between the pipes.
The all-star netminder has gone 22 straight games without giving up more than three goals, a feat accomplished only eight times on Luongo this season, with three of those instances coming in the opening five games of the year.
Good thing it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.
“It’s like he never ceases to impress us and it’s pretty fun to watch,” said Alex Bolduc, who recorded his first game-winning goal on the night.
“We’re holding our breaths sometimes with the saves he makes, we shouldn’t be giving up that many chances. When he has to, he does it, so it’s pretty awesome.”
Added Aaron Rome: “The last two games he’s been unbelievable for us, he’s kept us in it like the first period in Detroit and first period tonight again, then in the third tonight when we had the 2-1 lead, he really stopped them.”
The plan going into the season was for Luongo to play roughly 60 games, with backup Cory Schneider getting the rest. Because of spectacular play from Schneider and Vancouver locking down a playoff spot before any other team, down the stretch it’ll be Luongo getting the rest.
Secondary scoring comes in many forms and against the Thrashers, the Canucks utilized unlikely to get the job done.
Alex Bolduc’s second goal of the season, his second career score, stood as the golden goal in Vancouver’s 3-1 win over Atlanta; it felt like the forward’s first goal in forever, yet he potted one just eight games ago.
It feels like forever since he scored because it’s been forever since he played.
Bolduc suffered a shoulder injury mid-January that forced him to miss 29 games, that on the heels of an ankle injury that removed him from 23 games earlier this year.
The 25-year-old forward from Montreal, Quebec, who has played a mere 44 games in Vancouver since being signed as a free agent in 2008, enjoys chipping in on the scoresheet, but the coaching staff had very specific instructions for him before he returned to the team to begin this road trip.
“One of the biggest things they told me is that I’ve got to stay healthy," said Bolduc, "and I’m doing a lot of stuff off the ice to stay healthy and whatever I can on the ice."
If he can stay healthy and score a few more goals like his beautiful top-shelf backhand on Chris Mason, trips to Manitoba will become few and far between.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
“Ask me when the next time I’m going to use him in a shootout is. Come on, ask me, I dare you.” – Alain Vigneault, comically responding to a question about Daniel Sedin’s missed penalty shot in the first period.
This game featured the league’s best power play against the NHL’s worst penalty kill, unfortunately the Canucks were not assessed a single man advantage to take advantage; Vancouver has just six regulation losses in its last 52 games against teams from the Southeast Division; the Canucks lead the all-time series against the Thrashers 7-2-2.