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Canucks lose Luongo to injury in victory over Jets

Vancouver Canucks' Brad Richardson, left, and David Booth celebrate Richardson's goal against the Winnipeg Jets during first period NHL hockey action in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday December 22, 2013.


The Vancouver Canucks won at home on Sunday night, defeating the visiting Winnipeg Jets 2-1, but lost starting goaltender Roberto Luongo.

Luongo left the game late in the first period with what might be a groin strain.

It was initially unclear what went wrong for Luongo but he did lean on and stretch his right leg, testing it, before he left the ice with 3:30 to go in the first at Rogers Arena.

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After the game, a fraction of information came from coach John Tortorella. Luongo suffered - in the vague parlance of the Vancouver coach - a lower body injury, and the duration - again vague - is day to day.

Luongo's last significant injury was a strain of his adductor muscle in his groin during the 2008-09 season, when he missed nearly two months and 24 games.

The lack of news on Luongo leaves a question mark, at least through the Christmas break, about Luongo's standing with Team Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics. Before Sunday's game he was almost certain to be among the three goaltenders going and possibly the starter. The gold medal game is two months and one day away.

Luongo had saved six shots at the time of his departure, yielding no goals, and his backup, rookie Eddie Lack, inherited a 1-0 lead.

Playing well again, extending a stellar rookie season, Lack gave up only one goal, on a power play. Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev scored the winner on a firecracker of a wrist shot.

Tortorella expressed resounding faith in his backup netminder, who also delivered a win in Chicago on Friday and then again against Winnipeg.

"Very," said Tortorella, cutting off a postgame question halfway through about his confidence in Lack. "Very confident. He's not afraid of anything."

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Lack is 6-2, with a save-percentage of 0.928 and a goals against average of 1.93.

Lack, whose father and grandmother were in attendance Sunday, was his usual jovial self after the game. Asked what it was like to hear the home crowd chant his name, "Eddie! Eddie!"

"You never want to let in the next shot after that," he said, breaking out in a big smile.

The win leaves Vancouver as one of the hottest teams in the league, 8-1-1, even if their most recent play has been less than amazing.

The team rides with confidence into their longest Christmas holiday since the mid-1970s, six days off without a game before returning Dec. 29, when there are three games in four nights, starting in Calgary. The gap, for one thing, gives Luongo time to heal.

With the unusually long holiday in the schedule, and 39 games played, the Canucks are effectively at their season's halfway mark.

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The primary conclusion: the year's gone pretty much – or, say, exactly – like the past two seasons unfolded.

Eerily so.

After 39 games this season, under new coach John Tortorella, the team is 22-11-6, good for 50 points.

In the truncated lockout campaign of 2013, after 39 games, under old coach Alain Vigneault, the team was, yes, 22-11-6, good for 50 points.

In 2011-12, the season following the run to the Stanley Cup finals, the team was 24-13-2 after 39 games, good for – it's remarkable – 50 points.

Goals for, goals against? This season: 106-93. Last year, 105-95. The year before, 129-96.

The stories – the whys, the hows – change year by year. Last season, the team was without Ryan Kesler for large stretches, and only played the Western Conference. The year before, the team started somewhat slow after the depression of blowing the Cup final on home ice.

This season, the team has the spark of a new coach, getting the same results out of a core group of players that is a year, and two years, older, so that's something.

A primary difference is the composition of the National Hockey League. In each of the past two years, 50 points after 39 games was good enough for the lead in the mediocre Northwest Division, which guaranteed the team home ice in the first round of the playoffs.

This year, in the much-more-difficult Pacific Division, 50 points after 39 games is not all that good. In the Eastern Conference, it would rank third among all teams. In the Pacific, it has the Canucks stuck in the tenuous position of fourth, the same number of points as San Jose, but the Sharks have three games in hand. Los Angeles is second with 54 points, and two games in hand. Anaheim is first with 57 and one game in hand.

Also worrisome for Vancouver – which spent most of November in ninth place in the Western Conference before a strong December – are the teams close behind.

Minnesota in eighth is fairly even with Vancouver, and Phoenix in ninth and Dallas in 10th both have four games in hand. Phoenix at 44 points would tie Vancouver with three wins in the four games. Dallas could close a lot of ground with a hot run.

Such is the story for the Canucks in 2012-13. The winning streak in December has salvaged what was a season going in the wrong direction but it does not provide any respite. Changing coaches doesn't seem to have made much of a difference, though gambling to stay with the same voice of Vigneault for an eighth season would have been foolish. That said, the new bellicose voice of Tortorella hasn't managed any better.

One example: Vancouver in the Vigneault era piled up wins against the weak Northwest. This year, Vancouver and Tortorella have done it against the least, er, East, against which the team is 12-4-2, compared with 10-7-4 against the West.

Too bad for the Canucks there is no playoff crossover to the Eastern Conference, Canadian Football League style. The winter could be a long slog for Vancouver. The Canucks have played some of their best hockey, relatively speaking, but are not making much of a dent in the Pacific – and unless one of the California teams struggles, or fades, Vancouver will scratch for a playoff place and, if successful, will start the postseason on the road in a hostile environment such as Anaheim (amazingly, no losses in regulation at home as yet) or Chicago (just two losses in regulation).

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