Roberto Luongo may still lead Canada to a gold medal and the Vancouver Canucks to a Stanley Cup championship later next year, but in his first start at GM Place this season, the goaltender didn't make it out of the second period.
Luongo was yanked after a three-goal flurry from the Columbus Blue Jackets early in the middle stanza last night, and the Canucks fell for the third time in three games in this young NHL season. Columbus, playoff virgins last spring, prevailed 5-3 in Vancouver's home opener before a sellout of 18,810.
Luongo was pulled less than six minutes into the period, after allowing four goals on 12 shots. He was replaced by former Maple Leaf Andrew Raycroft, who is expected to start 12 to 15 games this season because of the condensed NHL schedule and Luongo's presumed Olympic duties.
But in a head-to-head matchup with Columbus's Steve Mason, another Canadian Olympic goalie contender, Luongo failed miserably.
Kristian Huselius's perfectly placed snapshot beat the Canucks goalie high to give Columbus a 2-1 lead just two minutes into the second. But two more goals in a three minute and 44-second span marked his undoing.
Rostislav Klesla beat Luongo with a weak shot from the top of the faceoff circle, and Nikita Filatov solved him just 22 seconds later with another stoppable offering.
Rick Nash had three assists, while Kristian Huselius, Antoine Vermette and Rostislav Klesla each had a goal and an assist. Willie Mitchell did the same for Vancouver, netting a goal just seven minutes into the third period to make the score 4-3, but Blue Jackets defenceman Fedor Tyutin ended the drama with a power-play tally late in the third period.
Mason finished with 40 saves, including a glove-hand beauty on a point-blank Mikael Samuelsson wrist shot midway through the third. Raycroft, who was cheered upon his home ice debut, made 11 stops.
Luongo was pulled for the first time since April, 2008, when he was removed from the regular-season finale in an eventual blowout loss to the Calgary Flames.
Vancouver, meanwhile, continues to struggle offensively, particularly when the Sedin twins are on the bench.
The top line factored into the team's first goal last night, but the second unit was so ineffective by mid-game that Russian rookie Sergei Shirokov was demoted and Samuelsson was minus-four. The line struck midway through the third period, setting up the goal by Mitchell, but Samuelsson took a hooking penalty with five minutes remaining.
Luongo is likely to be back in net tomorrow when Vancouver plays host to his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens, in the middle game of a three-game home stand.
The Canucks play the bulk of their home games between now and January because of a six-week winter stretch when their home arena will be unavailable. GM Place will play host to Olympic tournament games in February, and its conversion from NHL rink to 2010 venue and back will keep Vancouver on the road for six weeks and an NHL-record 14-game trip.
The Canucks moved within two goals midway through the second when defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, a German obtained in a trade with San Jose this summer, scored his first goal with his new team.
The Canucks opened the scoring late in the first period when Henrik Sedin jumped on a loose puck just outside the crease and snapped it home.
The lead lasted almost four minutes, and failed to grow despite 79 seconds of a five-on-three power play, when the visitors returned to full strength and struck quickly. Nash began a three-on-two rush, and whistled a cross-crease pass to Vermette for an equalizing goal.
Blue Jackets forward Jared Boll left the game in the first period after just one shift. He was checked, simultaneously, from behind by Vancouver enforcers Darcy Hordichuk and Rick Rypien and crumpled to the ice. After several minutes on his back, Boll left under his own power, hunched over in pain, and did not return.