His first NHL shutout came at the end of the 20th century, Dec. 27, 1999, his rookie season with the New York Islanders, a 34-save performance against a team that would years later become a bete noire, the Boston Bruins.
On Saturday night, on Hockey Night in Canada, with the Presidents’ Trophy on the line, Roberto Luongo didn’t have much work - just 17 shots from the lowly Edmonton Oilers - but stopped them all. The 33-year-old Vancouver Canuck became the 16th goaltender in National League Hockey history to reach 60 shutouts, joining a rarefied group made up of almost wholly of Hall of Famers.
The night ended with a standing ovation, huge cheers, that began with one minute left in the game. It was a big end to a big season- and now there is only one thing left for the Vancouver Canucks to win.
And so it was, even as Vancouver triumphed, minds were on next week, the first round of the playoffs, on June, the cup finals, and last June, when Vancouver blew 2-0 and 3-2 leads against Boston and went down on home ice in Game 7.
“We’re better prepared to face the journey," said Luongo after the game in the locker room. "Once you’ve been there, you know what it takes. You know, emotionally, what it takes to get all the way to the end.”
Vancouver’s 3-0 win over Edmonton - its seventh consecutive home-ice W - lifted the team to the top of the NHL table for a second-consecutive regular season, wresting the Presidents’ Trophy from the New York Rangers and the St. Louis Blues.
Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin had his wry humour on happy display after the game. "Pretty good for a terrible season," Sedin joked, alluding to the often negative tone of the press coverage of the Canucks.
"No one," he continued, "has really looked at this regular season as our main goal. And it hasn’t been. We know it’s not going to matter on Wednesday" - when the playoffs begin.
The opening for Vancouver to snatch the Presidents’ Trophy came after the New York Rangers blew its season-ender against the Washington Capitals, losing 4-1 at home, which lifted the Caps to No 7 in the Eastern Conference to face the Boston Bruins in the first round, with the Ottawa Senators taking on New York.
After the final horn sounded in Vancouver, the last game of the NHL regular season went to overtime in California. The San Jose Sharks, playing at home, were down 2-1 but won 3-2 against the Los Angeles Kings. The Sharks take seventh in the Western Conference, and will play the Blues in the first round; Vancouver faces L.A., likely to be scheduled for Wednesday. The Canucks were 2-1-1 against the Kings this season, and in the 2010 playoffs beat the Kings 4-2 in the first round, after falling behind 2-1.
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, as he has throughout this season, spoke of the top-to-bottom strength among teams in the West, stating that even though L.A. is an eighth seed, each opponent this spring will be formidable.
"Anybody that was able to battle their way into the playoffs in our conference is a team that going to have a chance at the Stanley Cup, that’s how competitive our conference is," Vigneault said after the game.
(On the lighter side of things, an unknown prankster had put up a note about Mason Raymond - who missed the Edmonton game because he was with his wife, who was giving birth. The prankster noted that Raymond had chosen to name his newborn son Alain, after the coach, which in fact was not the case, since the child had not yet been born as of the game's end. Vigneault smiled: "I thought it was a good way to get on the power play.")
Vancouver pressed from the very first moment on Saturday night but weren’t able to crack a puck past Edmonton goaltender Devan Dubnyk. The breakthrough moment came with about four minutes left in the second, with the Canucks connecting on a power play, a rare event in the past three months.
An Alex Edler slap shot started the sequence. Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows dug at the rebound in front of Dubnyk, and Burrows got it out to the left to a wide-open Henrik Sedin. The Canucks captain, at a sharp angle, popped the puck high for the 1-0 lead, his first goal in almost two months, the last coming also against Edmonton.
In the third, David Booth put one home, on the power play. It snapped a long 10-game pointless streak for Booth, and provided the Canucks some hope their power play is being wrestled from hibernation. The goal sparked the renewal of a chant from the second period among fans at Rogers Arena: “We want the cup.”