Perhaps the Vancouver Canucks did indeed learn something from their late-season meltdown last spring.
You may remember that goaltender Roberto Luongoperformed poorly after wife Gina gave birth. Naturally, there were some that placed the Canucks' late-season failure on Luongo and his travels back-and-forth to Florida that actually started during the All-Star break. Those people are wrong, because Vancouver couldn't do anything right down the stretch, and about the only thing they were doing consistently well was hanging Luongo out to dry.
That's not something you want to be good at.
So far this season, Luongo has largely been playing like a man on a mission. His goals against of 2.18 "only" ranks tenth, but he's seventh in save percentage (.928), and Luongo also leads the league with five shutouts. No one else in the NHL has more than two shutouts at this point. Luongo posted three in a row earlier this season, including a 2-0 win over Minnesota.
As good as Luongo has been, Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom has been even better.
Backstrom has just two shutouts, but he's got a near-microscopic goals against (1.92, good for third in the NHL). His save percentage of .936 also ranks third in the league. He was last seen stoning Petr Sykora, Alex Goligoski, and Sidney Crosby in a shootout to give Minnesota their third straight win.
And as my favorite Wild "blogger", Michael Russo, likes to point out, Backstrom's contract is up at the end of the season.
What are you waiting for, Doug?
Needless to say, I'm all pumped up to watch two of the NHL's hottest goalies go head-to-head. It helps that the Wild and Canucks have always had a pretty testy rivalry, going back to the Wild eliminating Vancouver from the 2003 playoffs.
(Of course, that particular series had it's own subplots. Wild fans were long aware of Todd Bertuzzi being a cheapshot artist, and they were booing him even back then. Bertuzzi may have fueled a Minnesota comeback from a 2-0 hole in Game Seven with his - I'm paraphrasing - "Get out the golf clubs" line after he scored a breakaway goal.)
Just as I got to thinking about the duel that was set for tonight, Russo came back to throw a bucket of cold water on everything. He said that word around the press box was Luongo was in for a night off.
I'm sure the Wild offense is thrilled. They've been struggling pretty severely, so while Curtis Sanford isn't exactly Dan Cloutier, he's not nearly as good as Luongo.
From Vancouver's standpoint, this makes perfect sense, as they can ill afford to overwork Luongo like they may have a year ago. Sanford is capable enough to keep his team in games, and if he isn't, Vancouver should go shopping for someone who is.
In the meantime, we'll have to save all our Backstrom-Luongo hype for the next time the Wild and Canucks meet. It'll probably trigger one of those wild 8-6 games, but I doubt anyone would complain.
Report: Canucks to Deprive Us of Backstrom-Luongo Showdown originally appeared on NHL FanHouse on Thu, 20 Nov 2008 17:35:00 EST . Please see our terms for use of feeds.