2011 NHL Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks Star Goalie Shines Brightest in Game 7

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2011 NHL Playoffs: Vancouver Canucks Star Goalie Shines Brightest in Game 7
Rich Lam/Getty Images

Regardless of what fate awaits the Vancouver Canucks in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, at least one Canucks player will probably sleep much easier this summer.

Roberto Luongo defied history and critics by putting together a marvelous performance in Game 7 last night versus the Chicago Blackhawks.

Vancouver's 2-1 victory in overtime eliminated the defending champions in one of the most dramatic series in Canucks history, if not NHL history.

There were lots of players who played like heroes last night for Vancouver: Alex Burrows, who scored both goals; Ryan Kesler, who played perhaps the best game of his NHL career; and the entire Canucks defense.

Luongo, however, was the toast of the town Tuesday evening.

Oh sure, Luongo has been on this stage before, backstopping Canada to Olympic gold in 2010 in a game where an entire nation put its hopes on Roberto's shoulders. However, Game 7 of the quarterfinals may very well replace that Olympic victory as the defining moment of Luongo's career.

For two years now, Luongo has watched his Stanley Cup aspirations, pride and reputation become sullied by the menacing Blackhawks. It didn't seem to matter what Roberto said or did to prepare for the test—Chicago became the demon that haunted him not only on the ice, but in his head as well.

Which victory was greater for Roberto Luongo?

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For the first three games of the series, Vancouver and Luongo looked unflappable. It seemed as though they had not only put their nightmares behind them, but would put the hex on the Hawks instead.

Then Game 4 happened.

So, maybe it was too easy to simply sweep Chicago without them putting up a real fight. In Game 5, it happened again. Then fans began to bite their nails.

"Uh-oh" was the predominant thought in Vancouver.

In Games 4 and 5, the Blackhawks looked like the unstoppable force from a year ago. Worse than that, Luongo looked like the ghost of playoff failures past. It was so bad that he would start Game 6 on the bench, entering only after Cory Schneider was removed due to injury late in the game.

Even then, it was to no avail and the Canucks suffered a heartbreaking defeat.

It all then came down to Game 7.

Chicago had made the heroic comeback to put Vancouver on the verge of elimination. While Chicago fans dreamed of making history, and the delight of torturing Vancouver to the ultimate level of humiliation, supporters of the Canucks crossed their fingers and hoped their team would not choke yet again.

Rich Lam/Getty Images

Perhaps more so than the team, they hoped Luongo would not repeat his usual standard in elimination games against the Hawks. No doubt, however, some fans had already figured the series was over in Chicago's favor.

As it turned out though, Mr. Luongo cast aside the self-doubts, the past demons and the pressure to deliver a Game 7 performance worthy of the highest praise. In one brief game that in actuality seemed to last for an eternity, Roberto regained the pride and, dare I say, dignity that he had been robbed of by Chicago the last two years.

Had Luongo lost, had he played poorly again, there is no telling the magnitude of the storm that would have brewed in Vancouver. Fans and critics would have publicly unveiled the newest headstone for the fabled Canucks goalie graveyard.

Unlikely to shake the label of a man who crumbles in the clutch, who knows if Luongo could ever have been depended on in a big game ever again?

Fortunately, it is a scenario that Roberto, Vancouver and its fans won't have to endure.

Vancouver still has three rounds and 12 wins to go before ultimate glory. Somehow, though, there seems a level of satisfaction gained that whatever Vancouver's fate these playoffs, at least the past demons have been exorcised. Perhaps it is only making room for newer demons to take the place of Chicago.

Right now, however, that seems a more welcome proposition than spending yet another year in the Blackhawks' shadow.

This morning, whether he admits it or not, there is no one more satisfied than Roberto Luongo. Something far greater than his playoff statistics was saved in Game 7's victory. Last night, Luongo went to sleep with a certain peace of mind, finally conquering the mental mountain that may have never let him rest soundly had he not scaled it.

Ladies and gentlemen, Roberto Luongo came through in the clutch. For today, if perhaps no other, he is redeemed.

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