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The Roberto Luongo dilemma

Before Game four of the Vancouver-Chicago series, I posted that it was time-if Luongo really wanted to be considered an elite NHL goaltender- to steal a series.

It didn’t happen.

I’m not a big fan of “save percentage” as a useful stat if only looking at one game in isolation. But over the 12 playoff games the Canucks played this spring, Luongo finished, I believe, with a save percentage of .895- not what you’re looking for at this time of year.

From the time he was drafted (then soon traded by Mike Milbury) by the Islanders and starred for the Florida Panthers, Luongo was always seen as an ultra-talented goalie playing for a lousy team. People thought, “if only” he could play for a good team, how good would this guy be?

Well, a full four years into his time with the Canucks, it appears now as though it was easier for him to bask in “if only” than the reality of getting the opportunity to play behind a good team.

Being a winning goalie in the playoffs isn’t easy. Halak may or may not steal another series for Montreal tonight against the Penguins. Who honestly thought he would make this kind of difference? He wasn’t even a recognized “number one” in Montreal until the playoffs started. That said, a year from now, he may be struggling, and everyone will have all but forgotten his current playoff heroics.

Chris Osgood has won Cups with Detroit, but he was never quite good enough, it seems, to satisfy Detroit fans.

Even the great Martin Brodeur, as tremendous as he has been in winning Cups for New Jersey, has also come up small some years in the playoffs.

It’s a tough job.

Vancouver now faces a long summer. Many teams would love to make it to the second round, but unfortunately, fair or not, sometimes the longer you go into the playoffs the more your perceived “weaknesses” are out there for everyone to see. The weaknesses may not be that at all, but only seem so because the competition is that much tougher the farther you go into the playoffs.

But the fact remains: when an athlete like Luongo (and his agent) insist on his being paid at the top of the pay scale for their position, then, to me, you have to perform at that level when it counts most. So far in his career, he hasn’t been able to do that on a consistent basis.

At 31, it’s not to say he won’t achieve playoff or even Stanley Cup success at some point. But now there is a playoff history. We can’t say “if only” anymore.
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