Often times when players reach a pinnacle in their career, there is a defining moment where those on the outside can say, “That was the moment when...” In the case of Roberto Luongo, that moment was clearly Game 7 of the Canucks first-round matchup with the Blackhawks on April 26th.
The incredible amount of pressure that was put squarely on Luongo’s shoulders seemed almost insurmountable. From the Vancouver press all the way down to the Canucks’ newest bandwagon fan, it was clear that even without the C on his chest, it would be up to him to unofficially captain this team to the next level.
Make no mistake about it: Call it a monkey on his back, the pink elephant in the room, the Blackhawk Curse—whatever you want to call it, Luongo wasn’t getting it done. Was he trying too hard? Was Chicago really in his head? Was he afraid of success?
Aside from the individual issues as a player, Vancouver sports reporters and their fanbase heaped more pressure on those broad shoulders, questioning everything from team leadership and character to a lack of courage.
If the house of cards were to fall, it would land on Roberto Luongo if Vancouver did not win Game 7 vs. Chicago. Some even believed that this game would make or break the Vancouver Canucks franchise.
His pregame interviews were shaky at best and at one point, he had to consult a team public relations representative to answer a question from reporters. His eyes said more than his words; the pressure and stress were obvious and the ticking clock was most likely echoing loudly in his ears.
Watching Luongo skate onto the ice for that Game 7, it was clear he knew this was going to be the game that would make or break his career.
When teammate Alex Burrows scored at 2:43 in the first, you could almost physically see some of the weight taken off Luongo. The scoreless second period seemed to be when whatever demon that this stoic goaltender had whispering in his ear disappeared. Even after Chicago’s Jonathan Toews tied the game late in the third, Luongo still seemed to have his mojo.
After Burrows scored the game-winner in OT, the team pile-on had one very happy Roberto Luongo on the bottom of it. "I don't know, this one might be better than the Olympics," he said in the postgame interview. He also framed his thoughts in a global sense, "You always say in tough times that's when you see the true character of somebody. Obviously it was a big game in my career."
Can we put a finger on what finally allowed Luongo to lose the monkey off his back? Probably not; only Roberto truly knows. Yet, since that moment, he has been rock solid. The demons seemed to have quietly returned to the Netherworld and not returned.
Throughout Vancouver’s Western Conference playoff series with both the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks, winning each series with a 5-1 record. Luongo was sharp and methodical, truly earning a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals.
While we are only through Game 1 of the Finals and some might think it is a bit premature to even discuss the Conn Smythe Trophy, Roberto Luongo is certainly very high up on the list of potential candidates.
Meanwhile, there certainly are some other well-deserving players in the mix. Luongo’s goaltending counterpart on the Bruins, Tim Thomas, has been almost as impressive as Luongo and may well be the only player that could take the trophy over him.
Some of his own team members could well be considered for the Conn Smythe; in particular, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieska and either of the Sedin twins as well.
Yet, one would think that considering the road that Luongo has taken—both personally and professionally—to get to these Finals and what he has had to overcome to get to this point, he is the only real candidate.
I would go so far as to say that if Vancouver can beat Boston to win Lord Stanley’s Cup, we will certainly see Roberto Luongo raising the Conn Smythe trophy as well. Coming from a Blackhawks fan, that really says something.