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Stanley Cup Finals 2011: Media Fans Flames Between Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas

VANCOUVER, BC - JUNE 10:  Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks talks to the media after defeating the Boston Bruins in Game Five of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Rogers Arena on June 10, 2011 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)
Rich Lam/Getty Images
Mary Ann ReitanoContributor IIIJune 11, 2011

I know I am starting to sound like a Luongo apologist and for all intents and purposes, I am. I have gained a huge amount of respect for Roberto Luongo since Vancouver’s Game 7 matchup with the Chicago Blackhawks in the quarterfinals.  While others may argue that Monday night’s Game 6 in Boston will be Luongo’s most important game, in my eyes, it will always be that Game 7 against Chicago.

During Friday's Game 5 post-game interviews, we saw a Roberto Luongo that we hadn’t seen in a very long time—comfortable and confident.  He made eye contact with the reporters, he spoke strongly, definitively and never once hung his head in anticipation of a question.  No one is in Roberto head right now…but him.

This Final can clearly be described as a goaltending battle, and the media has been trying, unsuccessfully, to get that battle to migrate off the ice since before the puck drop of Game 1. During Game 5’s postgame on Friday, Luongo was asked to describe the only goal of the game from a goalie’s perspective and specifically how difficult it was.  This is what he had to say;

“It’s not hard if you’re playing in the paint. So, it’s an easy save for me but if you’re wandering out and aggressive like he does, I mean, it’s gonna happen. He may make some saves that I don’t but in cases like that, I mean, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we’re in good position to bury those.”

There was no sarcasm in his voice, no smirk on his face and he was simply being forthcoming with an answer.  He showed Boston’s Tim Thomas some deference by saying that he may make some saves that Roberto necessarily wouldn’t, and there was no negative reaction to his quote by the media present in the room. They simply seemed to just take it at face value.  Context is important as this story developed from here, so keep that in mind.

Reporters still insisted on making a story where there wasn’t one.  When Luongo was interviewed at the airport in Vancouver before heading to Boston for Game 6 Saturday, he was told that his comment had gotten some press.  He wrinkled his eyebrows, somewhat confused and replied;

“I just said that also he may make some saves that I don’t so; So, I’m just saying on that particular play I would have played it different.  That’s the difference between me and him.  I have been pumping his tires ever since the series started so I haven’t heard one nice thing he had to say about me so, that’s just the way it is.”

Some may feel that the “pumping his tires” comment was unwarranted but, again, taking things into context, Luongo has been under some serious heat during this long playoff season.  The moment things looked shaky for the Canucks, all eyes were on Luongo even when no one in front of him could find Boston’s net.  Would it be too much to cut the guy some slack?

During Saturday’s presser in Boston, Bruins head coach Claude Julien, early on in the session, was asked again about Luongo’s comment.  He calmly and rather matter-of-factly had this to say;

“Well, to be honest with you, this series has been a lot about that and you guys are loving it.  But from our end of it we’re down to the wire here where we need to focus on our game and what it means a lot more than what is being said.  Everyone is entitled to their opinion and they can say what they want.  But right now, my focus is on getting this team back into this series.”

A few minutes later, in response to another question regarding the previous night’s shutout, as an aside Julien has this to say about Luongo’s play; “Roberto has been good, he is an elite goaltender as we all know but I don’t think we’ve made his life as difficult as we could.”

Julien’s demeanor up to this point in the session had been entirely what one would expect.  Focused on what his team needed to do and peppering his responses with complimentary words about Vancouver. He obviously has respect for Luongo and his game.

A little less than two minutes after that, the same question was asked again regarding Luongo’s comment.  Julien is trying to win a Stanley Cup and the media, hungry for some off-ice drama, simply wouldn’t leave the Luongo situation alone.

“Let’s put it this way, I don’t think Timmy is going to make much of that comment.  I think you guys are making more out if it than Timmy will. So, either way his stats, ya know, are proof itself, six goals in five games.  I’m not quite sure how many he’s (Luongo) let in, I’m sure you guys have a pretty good idea. So, I really don’t think he’s (Thomas) is going to lose sleep over that.”

He followed those words with a smirk while more than a handful in the room chuckled.  Yet, no one seemed to run to their computers to the same extent that they did with regard to Luongo.  In all honesty, I think we can safely say that the Luongo question was asked and answered more times than needed and that the media, after the fury of Games 3 and 4, wanted a new angle, even if they had to contrive one.

Lastly, in a very stealth move by Boston, Tim Thomas was not made available to the media on Saturday.  Obviously, Boston did not want to give the media an opportunity to get a quote from Thomas or barrage him like they did Julien.  While I doubt Thomas would have allowed them to get to him to the extent that they did Julien, it was still a smart move on their part to keep from escalating the situation.

So, is there really a story here? No, but by putting things into context, or not, there is, at the very least, a story within the story. 

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