Roberto Luongo Has Reclaimed the Starting Goalie Role for the Playoffs

Joel Prosser@@JoelProsserCorrespondent IMay 1, 2013

Roberto Luongo
Roberto LuongoChristian Petersen/Getty Images

Well, this is a surprise.

At the start of the season, most pundits and fans expected Roberto Luongo to be a starter on an NHL playoff team—just not on the Vancouver Canucks.

Luongo starts tonight.

— Vancouver Canucks (@VanCanucks) May 1, 2013

After Schneider suffered a mysterious "body injury" after a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks last week, we all knew this was a possibility.

But Schneider had practiced for three days in a row and had declared himself ready to play as recently as yesterday.

Then, this morning, after he took the game day skate, we got the surprise tweet from the Vancouver Canucks' official twitter account.

It was followed up by this tweet with information from head coach Alain Vigneault.

And with that, we also found out that fourth-string goalie Joe Cannata will be backing up Luongo tonight, meaning Schneider isn't even healthy enough to sit on the bench as the backup. Third-string goalie Eddie Lack is in town as part of the practice squad but is recovering from hip surgery himself.

To recap the goalie drama in Vancouver, two years ago Luongo led the Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. In the finals, the Canucks couldn't score against the Boston Bruins, posting just eight goals in seven games. Luongo pitched a pair of shutouts in the series but was unfairly vilified by fans and media alike after blowout losses to Boston.

Then, last season, Cory Schneider emerged as a bonafide starter when Luongo was injured, resulting in a goalie controversy down the stretch.

Luongo started off the playoffs in net, but when the Canucks went down 0-2 to the L.A. Kings in the first round, again due to the Canucks' inability to score more than to any lack of goaltending, Schneider took over as the starter. 

It seemed that the Luongo era was at an end, and the franchise leader in wins, games played and shutouts would be traded. However, the lockout put a stop to that.

When the season resumed in January 2013, the new CBA included a punitive clause that punished long-term contracts such as Luongo's, because they had violated the spirit, although not the letter, of the old CBA. This impediment, combined with the unusual nature of a compressed 48-game season, led the Canucks to keep Luongo and Schneider in a tandem.

At the trade deadline, the Canucks attempted unsuccessfully to deal Luongo, leading to his infamous comments about his contract.

And now we come to the playoffs. Schneider is injured—we don't know with what exactly, but he isn't fit to dress for games.

Luongo is healthy, but coming off a 7-2 debacle in the last game of the season against Edmonton. Luongo played great for 55 minutes, but the game unraveled in the last 5 minutes. However, that was an unusual game and shouldn't be taken as an indication of his play heading into the playoffs.

First, the Canucks dressed essentially a preseason lineup, resting the Sedins, Alex Burrows, Dan Hamhuis, Jason Garrison and Alex Edler, along with the injured Chris Tanev. They dressed their eighth, ninth and tenth defencemen on the depth chart.

Second, the game meant nothing to the Canucks and everything to the Oilers, who were trying to give their fans something before another long offseason.

This season, Luongo has posted a 9-6-3 record, with a 0.907 save percentage and 2.56 GAA. Although definitely below his usual performance levels, this is easily attributed to his inconsistent starts in the latter half of the season.

The Canucks are 0-3 against the Sharks this year, but Schneider was in net for all three games. Luongo is 6-0-2 in his last eight starts against the Sharks at Rogers Arena, with a sparkling 0.945 save percentage and 1.85 GAA.

In general, Luongo is great in home openers for a playoff series, going 4-1 to open a playoff series over the last two years. Against the Sharks in the 2011 playoffs, he absolutely dominated Antti Niemi in the goaltending duel.

If Luongo can continue his strong play into the postseason, he would make it very hard for management to put Schneider back into the net even when healthy. Luongo could very well author a nice comeback story with a few strong performances.