I have to say, in all honesty, Roberto Luongo has the toughest job in the NHL– apologies to Colin Campbell. Few players are dragged through the blue and green mud to the extent of Luongo. Yes, he has let in 12 goals in two games and once again the question that many are asking—are the Bruins in his head?
Before Game 7 of the Chicago series in round one of the playoffs, the question that was asked over and over was if the Chicago Blackhawks were in his head yet again after losing to Chicago in the playoffs the past two years.
Luongo played the game of his life, finally beating Chicago to move on to the next round and eventually to the Stanley Cup Finals. After getting the proverbial Blackhawk monkey off his back, hockeydom is wondering now that Chicago has vacated Luongo’s head, if the Bruins moved in?
While, as a Hawks fan, I have enjoyed the “in Luongo’s head” banter that has been front and center over the past few years, I am convinced now, more than ever that Chicago was never in Luongo’s head and that Boston isn’t in there now. If neither of these are the case then, what is it?
Roberto Luongo has very broad shoulders, both literally and figuratively. There are few players, if any at all, who have had so much put on them from outside sources as far as pressure and expectations are concerned. As I have written about previously, Game 7 of the Chicago series was, and still can be considered, the most important game of his career. He was Hercules carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders with everyone wondering when he was going to flinch and obliterate us all.
While Game 5 of the Finals is another crossroads for Luongo, it is not the end of the road. Keep in mind that during the Chicago series, Vancouver head coach Alain Vigneault faked out the press by stating that Luongo was going to start Game 6 of the Chicago series, only to have back-up goaltender Cory Schneider between the pipes when the puck dropped at center ice.
Could he be pulling the same head-fake again to keep Boston guessing? Quite possibly.
Again, a similar pressure is beginning to mount around Luongo and the questions about his inability to mentally handle the big games are now an everyday occurrence. Yet looking at the big picture, it may well be something else.
He certainly prepares for the physical responsibilities of being an NHL goaltender and had what many are calling a phenomenal 2010-11 regular season. So what is it that is keeping Luongo from bringing his game consistently to the next level in the postseason? He has the physical presence for his goaltending responsibilities, he has proven that time and time again with his stats and highlight reels.
The only plausible conclusion is that there is something inside Luongo that will not allow him to be the mental player that he knows he can be on a physical level. The mind is indeed a complex and intimidating database. Could it be something as simple as a subconscious belief that he doesn’t deserve to be in the Finals and he is afraid that someone is going to come to the same conclusion and take it all away from him? His own personal act of self-sabotage.
This may sound too touchy feely for the game of hockey, yet to those who have gone through some very similar ebbs and flows, this possible explanation might be what keeps Roberto Luongo from becoming the elite goaltender that many believe he can be. In the meantime, we will have to wait and see if Vigneault is pulling another ‘freaky-deak’ on us with respect to a starting goaltender for Game 5.
Lastly, we can only hope that the Canucks have found a sports psychologist who boasts fast results because if Boston wins Game 5, a Game 6 loss may well be more costly than the psychologist’s fees. I am a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a Chicago thing, but there is always next year! (Just kidding!)