Roberto Luongo: Why a Cup Won't Save Him from His Legacy as a Choker

Franklin Steele@FranklinSteeleAnalyst IIJune 14, 2011

BOSTON, MA - JUNE 13:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins celebrates after scoring a goal in the first period as Roberto Luongo #1 of the Vancouver Canucks looks on during Game Six of the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on June 13, 2011 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Elsa/Getty Images

Roberto Luongo is going to have to wait at least one more year to rid himself of the reputation as a continual big game underachiever. After giving up three goals on eight shots and allowing the Boston Bruins a chance at a one-shot, winner take all Game 7, it is impossible to view him as anything else than that.

It's arguably the most important game of his life and he didn't even make it nine minutes into the game.

If we know one thing about him, it's this:  Luongo wilts under the hottest of spotlights.

After backstopping the Canadians to a Gold Medal in the Olympics last year, pundits were quick to think that Luongo was starting to get the hang of this whole "be big when it matters most" aspect of goaltending. 

Because that is the most important part of the position, and it is what separates the good players from the immortal.

But who was it that gave up a last-second goal to Zach Parise to send that game into overtime? 

Ah, yes. It was Roberto Luongo. 

It wouldn't have been an easy save, to say the least. The puck changed directions on him, sure.  But he still made the save and he still coughed up the rebound to a waiting Parise.

Several minutes into overtime, Sidney "Killer Instinct" Crosby saved the day, and ended what I believe to be one of the best hockey games I have ever witnessed.  (Note:  And in no way am I bitter about losing that kind of hockey game. I wouldn't trade that OT loss in for a 7-0 blowout win.)

Somewhat lost in the celebration was that Luongo was responsible for sending the game into extra minutes in the first place. This is a guy who had shaken the reputation of a choker?  Hardly.

After putting up terrible performances in playoffs passed that have been documented well elsewhere, he came into this postseason looking to finally exercise his demons.

His first round match-up?  Perfect.

The Chicago Blackhawks.

The Canucks jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the defending Stanley Cup Champion 'Hawks, and Lungo and Co. appeared poised to get over the Red and Black hump with decisive force.

Not so fast.

Luongo proceeded to give up a goal within the first two minutes of Game 4 and coughed up six goals total before finally being pulled in the third period. Of course the 'Hawks were just hungry and desperate, right?  Only so much a guy can do against that kind of hunger.

He failed to find that same will to win in himself for Game 5.

Four goals on twelve shots, and he didn't make it through the second period.

Not surprisingly, the Canucks elected not to start Luongo for a very important Game 6.  (Am I the only person wondering if it wouldn't be Cory Schneider playing for the Cup right now if he doesn't get hurt in that game?)  While he didn't start the game, he did finish it by allowing a goal in overtime to send the series to a Game 7.

It took another overtime, and a super human effort from Alex Burrow's to lift the Canucks to round two.

I know what you're probably thinking, that the defense fell apart in front of Luongo, and the games weren't totally his fault. 

I'd be inclined to agree with that statement All the games were not his fault, but giving up that many goals in closeout games isn't all X's and O's either.

There's a steady trend and precedent here. 

After getting blown out off the ice in Games 3 and 4 in Boston, Luongo still had a chance at redemption after a shutout on his home rink, and he did. 

He won convincingly in Game 5, setting the stage for a Cup Parade in Vancouver after winning Game 6 in Boston.

After finally pushing through the 'Hawks earlier in the playoffs, what better way to finally show naysayers what kind of player he really is with a victory at TD Garden—the kind of victory that takes guts, determination, and will. 

If this had been a Hollywood movie, that's exactly how it would have gone, and for at least one season, Luongo's killer instinct wouldn't be questioned.

Brad Marchand and Andrew Ference.

That's what put Luongo on the bench less than nine minutes into a Cup-clinching game.

So forgive me if this run of his doesn't convince me that he is anything besides a player who can win Games 1 through 3, but has trouble closing a series out. 

He has done nothing to show that he is capable—mentally or physically—of putting up his big numbers when they count the most.

Even if the Vancouver Canucks do win Game 7 on Wednesday night, Luongo will not have shaken his reputation as a player who doesn't have the guts and will to win on the biggest of stage, when the games matter most.

Analysts and fans alike will still question his mental toughness, and rightfully so.

Luongo has only solidified himself as that kind of player—the dreaded All-Star with gaudy numbers who can get the job done during the regular season, and during some playoff games. 

But a player who is anything but clutch, and anything but strong when his team needs him to be, and has anything besides a killer instinct, is not a star in my book. 


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