It’s always convenient to have a scapegoat when things go badly in an NHL playoff series; and if his nickname happens to rhyme with boo, well, that’s even better.
Only problem is, the Vancouver Canucks are trailing in their best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final to the Los Angeles Kings, not because of Roberto Luongo’s work in goal, but in spite of decent-to-strong work from their de facto No. 1 man.
Making the switch would just be a lot easier if Luongo hadn’t given them a chance in the opener (in which they were widely outplayed) and then followed with a thoroughly professional effort in Game 2, a much closer affair that, on balance, could have gone the Canucks’ way.
But goaltending switches aren’t always about just the goaltenders. Sometimes, they are about momentum – and the chance to turn that around.
So for tonight’s third game, coach Alain Vigneault confirmed that he will go with nominal back-up Cory Schneider, who has had a strong year in 33 previous appearances for the Canucks this season and will get a chance to play against a boyhood rival, the Kings’ Jonathan Quick.
The two hail from New England, are both 26, and played against each other numerous times in the past – albeit, not for stakes like these. With a win, the Canucks can get back in the series. With a loss, they would need a miraculous comeback from a 3-0 deficit which has happened just three other times in the long history of Stanley Cup play.
“Two great goaltenders, I’ve used both of them all year long,” explained Vigneault Sunday afternoon. “Obviously, being down 2-0 is not a reflection on the goaltending we’ve had so far, but we feel that it’s time to change the momentum a little bit – and this is one of the cards we might have.”
Added Henrik Sedin, the Canucks’ captain: “Goaltending has not been the problem this series. We’re trying to do something new tonight. We have total confidence in both goalies Schneids has played unbelievable when he’s been there. It’s tough for him to come in when he needs to for us – a lot of times, it’s in a back-to-back. He’s played in some tough buildings this year and he’s done a great job for us.”
KEYS TO GAME: Beyond rolling the dice on a goalie change, the Canucks also understand they need a better result on special teams to get back into the series. Los Angeles has two shorthanded goals, plus three on the power play thus far. The Canucks, meanwhile, have been blanked.
“Anybody that’s followed our series closely knows that five-on-five has been pretty balanced,” said Vigneault. “Where there’s been a difference is in the power play and the penalty killing. Both those facets of our game, L.A. has been a lot better than we have. We’ll try and make a few adjustments tonight and hopefully, we’ll be good.”
VIEW FROM THE OTHER SIDE: The Kings will still be without Brad Richardson, recovering from an emergency appendectomy, plus Kyle Clifford, recovering from an undisclosed upper body injured suffered in the opener on the hit from the Canucks’ Byron Bitz that resulted in a two-game suspension. Bitz’s suspension ends with tonight’s game.
According to coach Darryl Sutter, the Kings will do what they can to limit the Canucks’ puck possession, noting: “The bottom line is, with the way the game is played now, it’s how much you have the puck. You’re not going to dominate that part of the game, but you try, in 5-on-5, to have the puck as much as possible. With that is protecting it, or fighting for it and battling for it. It’s something that we can be a lot better at.’’
THE LINE-UP: Vigneault also confirmed that there would be one other line-up change tonight, Dale Weise entering the series in place of Andrew Ebbett AND FINALLY: The Canucks had an optional skate Sunday morning, but their player availability outside was at a posh Santa Monica hotel, just off the beach, on a beautiful sunny day that likely inspired the Randy Newman hit I Love L.A. Team captain Henrik Sedin confirmed that the lines figure to be the same as those at Saturday’s practice, which would mean he’ll play with Jannik Hansen and Alex Burrows, with Ryan Kesler centering David Booth and Chris Higgins. With Daniel Sedin still out recovering from a concussion, the No. 1 power-play unit looks as if it will feature Sedin, Kesler, Higgins, plus the pair of Dan Hamhuis and Alex Edler on the point.
“There’s obviously a couple of adjustments we have to make,” said Vigneault, discussing the power-play adjustments. “Give them a lot of credit. They’re putting a lot of pressure on us. They’re taking away our space and time. It’s just a matter of us executing better. We’ve done it at key moments this year, we just haven’t done it in this series.”