To put it simply, it has not been the best two-game stretch for Roberto Luongo this week.
With the Stanley Cup on the line, his Vancouver Canucks have been outscored 12-1 by the Boston Bruins to tie the series at two games apiece. Luongo has surrendered all 12 goals after giving up only two in the first two games of the series.
The 32-year-old veteran and team leader has hit 30 wins for six seasons in a row and has become a massive goaltending superstar in five years in Vancouver. He's a candidate for this season's Vezina Trophy after a 38-15-7 record this regular season (including a 2.11 goals-against average, or GAA). Yet, this is Luongo's first time making it past the second round, and it appears that perhaps the pressures and fatigue of a Cup run are beginning to show.
After sweeping through three series in the Western Conference to take the Clarence Campbell Bowl and then winning the first two games of the Cup Finals, Luongo had a 14-6 record, a .928 save percentage, and a 2.16 save percentage, all of which were leading all playoff goalies.
But then suddenly, as the series turned to Games 3 and 4 over on the East Coast in Boston's TD Banknorth Garden, something changed.
In Luongo's next start, Game 3, he gave up four goals in the second period, convinced coach Alain Vigneault to keep him in, and then let in four more tallies in the third period. In just one evening, Luongo now had posted his worst start since April 24 with just 30 saves on 38 shots, a pathetic .789 save percentage and, obviously, an 8.00 GAA.
Two days later in Game 4, everyone expected a rebound from Luongo. After all, he hadn't even posted back-to-back starts with save percentages at or under .900, much less .800, in 15 consecutive games.
Yet, the Wednesday night recovery never happened for 32-year-old Luongo. Instead, he suffered another 4-0 loss, eventually being pulled in the third period. Once again, the effort produced only a disappointing 16 stops on 20 shots against, a .800 save percentage and 5.59 GAA.
Remarkably, in a span of only two games and three days, Luongo's 2011 postseason statistics had dropped 1.2 percent in terms of save percentage, down to a merely decent 91.6 percent mark, and had risen 0.38 in terms of GAA, up to a mediocre 2.54 record.
With such struggles in such a crucial time, any goaltender, no matter how important, needs to be replaced for a while. And, in the Canucks' position, that can be arranged.
Vancouver still has 25-year-old netminder Cory Schneider in their back pocket. Schneider, expected to be a big trade target this summer, was a first round pick in the 2004 draft and saw his first real backup duty this season. Remarkably, the youngster was absolutely fantastic, going 16-4-2 with a .929 save percentage and 2.23 GAA.
While Schneider has made four other appearances in the playoffs, he's yet to record a win or a loss in the postseason. However, he did have a start and two relief opportunities in the Canucks' first round series against the Blackhawks and also went nine-for-nine in the third period of this most recent Game Four after replacing Luongo.
Should Vancouver really trust such a young and inexperienced goaltender to start a game that will put either his team or his opponents just one win away from a Stanley Cup victory?
No question about it.
Schneider has proven he's talented enough, deserving enough, and pretty much reliable enough to be given the opportunity of a lifetime to really prove himself as a legitimate NHL goaltender, capable of leading any team.
Luongo, at least this week, has only proven that his typical crumble-under-pressure routine was perhaps just delayed a few series this time around.
Put Schneider in the net to start Game 5.
Let him soak up the atmosphere of 18,860 insane 'Nucks fans putting all of their confidence in him. Let him learn what the Stanley Cup Finals really feel like.
Give him a chance to make history, to get his name out beyond the realms of his current dead-end replacement job.
Make him earn that multi-million dollar deal that he may, or may not, receive when his current $0.7 million-per-season contract expires next summer.
See if he really can carry the Vancouver Canucks on his shoulders and win Game 6.
And watch him deliver.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes. In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 275 articles and received over 285,000 total reads.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!