It was not – despite the clamorous billing of this early-season tilt – a goaltending showcase. The men in net, on whom such a spotlight has shined, were relatively good but never reached amazing.
Before it began, there they were, the two by the boards and the penalty boxes, during warmups, stretching and chatting, old friends, brothers, lifelong member of the goaltenders fraternity. Each one loosened up, the centre red line dividing the two, Cory Schneider – it still seems strange – in a New Jersey Devils uniform and Roberto Luongo in the blue of the – it still seems improbable – Vancouver Canucks.
On Tuesday night in Vancouver, it was Schneider’s 100th game in the National Hockey League, and Luongo’s 750th. The teammates and friendly rivals faced each other for the first time as true rivals – and it was, at the end, Luongo who was the victor, as the Canucks came from behind to win 3-2, giving Luongo his 350th victory in the league, second among all active goalies.
It came down to overtime. Canucks defenceman Jason Garrison, halfway through the five-minute final frame, lobbed a shot at Schneider, with Mike Santorelli in front with a screen. The puck floated through, giving Garrison three goals in four games, and with the win sealed, the Canucks‘ record climbed to 3-1. The loss left the Devils still winless, falling to 0-1-3.
"We got the win, so that's what matters," said Luongo after the game, saluting the work of "Scheids" at the other end of the rink, crediting him for keeping New Jersey in the game.
And for all the chatter about goaltending, two older fellows made some of the most noticeable noise on the score sheet: the 33-year-old Sedin twins. Sure, it’s only four games in but for all the talk that the two – in the final year of their contract – are past their prime, and can no longer drum up a point per game, are no longer elite, the Sedins have announced themselves this October.
After another productive night – Daniel had a goal and an assist, and Henrik had an assist – the twins are in a four-way tie for second in the league in scoring, with six points, alongside Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Michael Grabner. Well, well. (Who is No. 1? San Jose's Tomas Hertl, a 19-year-old who is the first Sharks to play for the team who was born after the franchise played its first game in 1991. Hertl had an incredible four goals on Tuesday night, to reach seven points, as the Sharks beat the New York Rangers 9-2.)
Daniel’s goal fit the mould of the mood of the evening. Midway through the second, the Canucks down 2-0, Daniel Sedin sent in a shot from a long way out, some 17 metres. The puck deflected off Anton Volchenkov along the way and floated in on Schneider’s glove side, the goaltender a little too far right in the crease for the redirected puck. It wasn’t one Schneider should have snagged exactly but there was no magic in the crease either.
"You've got to fight through that and make saves," said Schneider after the game.
The same thing, 90 seconds earlier. New Jersey sent a puck into the Vancouver corner and it bounced off the boards, hitting the skate of a referee. Canucks defenceman Dan Hamhuis, who was right there, could do nothing to watch it slide away towards the net, right to Patrick Elias, who cracked it at the Luongo. The puck then banked off the skate of Vancouver’s Dale Weise in front and slipped through Luongo’s legs. Not exactly the goaltender’s fault, but no magic in the crease either.
Fact is, even for all the hype around Tuesday’s game for Schneider’s return, neither goaltender has been tremendous this season. Schneider had a crazy great preseason, giving up one goal on 80 shots, winning the opening-night job over legend Marty Brodeur, but then lost 3-0 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Luongo lost on opening night, too, in a game he played well, and won against Edmonton, when he played less well.
The finest goal of the night came as the second period rolled towards its end, as the Canucks kept pushing for a sustained increase in the pace, trying to pin back the Devils, who were playing for the second time in two nights.
The effort cracked through with about six minutes left, as New Jersey temporarily lost Ryan Clowe after he blocked an Alex Edler shot. As Clowe limped off, the Canucks swarmed again, with Henrik Sedin pushing the puck to his brother Daniel who, from the wing, whipped it to a charging Edler. The defenceman took the pass off his right skate, got the puck under control and – facing down Schneider one-on-one – deked right and then left before popping the puck up and in, cleanly beating the Devils netminder.
Earlier in the day, Schneider said it was “obviously bittersweet” to return to Vancouver, and he had kind words for his friend. “We had a deal with a lot last year,” said Schneider. “He [Luongo] never wavered in his support for me.”
The young 2013-14 season churns on. Vancouver will face New Jersey once more, on the road. The lives of the two men in net have now, mostly, diverged, but they will be entwined in minds for a long time yet. And, while odds are low, maybe the two men see each other next February in Sochi, Russia, at the Olympics, where Luongo is a primary candidate for Canada, and Schneider a long-shot for the United States.
Luongo, asked Tuesday morning whether all the drama is finally over, would not close the chapter on a saga that has constantly unfurled in unexpected ways.
“I wish it was,” said Luongo, smiling, “but I have a feeling it’s not.”