Roberto Luongo

Roberto Luongo’s legacy is on the line as he gets the start against Chicago in Game 7

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Amid all the craziness of this flipped-upside-down Chicago Blackhawks vs. Vancouver Canucks series, it only seems right that it comes down to Roberto Luongo in Game 7.

It doesn’t really matter that he’s looking more nervous than a high school kid before a first date. The Blackhawks’ psychological edge is growing with each crippling win – whether those victories come in blowouts or overtime shockers – but this is one of those moments when a highly paid player needs to earn his money. To extend the analogy, Luongo is now that unemployed post-grad who needs to get his head out of the clouds and just get the job done.

The Vancouver Canucks might not be comfortable with this situation, but they must live and die with their $10 million franchise goalie on Tuesday night. Alain Vigneault announced that he will start Game 7 and also said that the team told him he’d start that decisive game even before they went with Cory Schneider in Game 6.

Fair or not, a win or loss in Game 7 will have an enormous impact on Luongo’s potential Hall of Fame legacy.

He’s had an oddball career up this point. After being chosen fourth overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders, Luongo had a falling out with team management and was eventually traded to the Florida Panthers in 2000. He was rightly described as a hidden gem in Florida for five seasons, putting up outstanding numbers despite a heavy workload and facing a ridiculous amount of shots (including an NHL record 2,488 in 2005-06 and 2,475 in 03-04).

Luongo “escaped” from Florida after that 05-06 season in another comically one-sided trade that sent him to Vancouver in an exchange that included Todd Bertuzzi, Bryan Allen and Alex Auld.

Since then, his reputation has hit some interesting peaks and valleys. He became an unofficial captain during the 2009-10 season, an outside-the-box move that ultimately backfired. Luongo won a gold medal with Team Canada in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics after Martin Brodeur faltered. After years of carrying an awful team, Luongo now benefits from an elite supporting cast while sporadically receiving blame for his team’s worst defeats.

Make no mistake about it, though. This troubling rivalry against the Blackhawks is almost growing into a complex at this point.

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Vigneault was at least half-correct when he said “He’s been on the big stage before, he’ll be fine.” Luongo is accustomed to big-time pressure, but judging from the last two starts and one ill-fated relief appearance, it’s tough to argue that he’s truly “fine.”

Yet the Hollywood scriptwriters in all of us want to see how he responds, even if the collective blood pressure of the Canucks fan base will suffer. Ultimately, Luongo might not be able to totally mute his naysayers with a big performance, but a win would help him at least turn the volume down.

That’s because win or lose, Game 7’s have a tendency to amplify things.

Capitals shine glaring light on Blues’ goalie woes

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Jake Allen #34 of the St. Louis Blues makes a save during the first period against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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If you’re reaction to the headline “Something is off about the St. Louis Blues” was “Yeah, their goaltending,” then Thursday only emboldened that opinion.

It wasn’t just that the Washington Capitals bombarded the Blues by a score of 7-3. It’s that they really didn’t need to fire a whole lot of shots on goal to get to seven.

Here’s a harsh rule of thumb: when both of your goalies play in a game and each one barely makes more saves than goals allowed, that’s an awful night. Take a look at what Jake Allen and Carter Hutton went through:

Allen: six saves, four goals allowed in 25:11 time on ice
Hutton: five saves, three goals allowed in 35:49

Allen got pulled from the contest twice, by the way. He’s been pulled from four games since Dec. 30. Woof.

Even before these horrendous performances, the Blues goalies have been shaky. Hutton came into tonight with an ugly .898 save percentage; Allen wasn’t much better with a .900 mark.

Those are the type of numbers that would make Dallas Stars fans cringe, or at least experience some uncomfortable familiarity.

Now, is it all on Hutton and Allen? Much like with the Stars’ embattled goalies, much of the struggles probably come down to a team struggling in front of them.

Even so, if you assign more of the blame to Allen and Hutton, nights like this Capitals thrashing definitely strengthen your argument. Yikes.

Rangers overwhelm Leafs, make life pretty easy for Lundqvist in win

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 19:  Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers faces a shot in the warm-up prior to play against the Toronto Maple Leafs in an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on January 19, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
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Heading into Thursday, many were wondering how the New York Rangers will handle Henrik Lundqvist‘s struggles. Instead, the focus shifted to the Toronto Maple Leafs’ difficulties, perhaps specifically in dealing with Morgan Rielly‘s absence.

The Rangers handily won this one 5-2, at least giving Lundqvist the win. He wasn’t especially busy, stopping 23 out of 25 shots, so you can probably file his story under “To be continued.”

Lundqvist wasn’t oblivious to his team’s impressive overall play.

Really, it was all about the waves of attackers the Rangers can send at opponents and the trouble that caused for the Maple Leafs. It wasn’t the easiest night for Frank Corrado, in particular, who took a couple costly penalties.

The Rangers’ next two games come in a road contest vs. the Red Wings on Sunday and a home game against the Kings on Monday. Perhaps those matches will serve as a better barometer for where Lundqvist’s really at, as he passed tonight’s test … but it wasn’t a particularly difficult one.

So, is Mike Condon actually really good? He certainly was against Columbus

OTTAWA, ON - JANUARY 8: Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stands at the bench during a break in a game against the Edmonton Oilers at Canadian Tire Centre on January 8, 2017 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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Considering their numbers heading in, many were perplexed when the Ottawa Senators essentially replaced Andrew Hammond with Mike Condon. Now many are perplexed by just how strong Condon’s often been for Ottawa.

Thursday might stand as the prime example that this guy could be better than many expected.

The Columbus Blue Jackets dominated much of the play, generating a 42-28 shots on goal advantage, but Ottawa ended up winning 2-0 tonight.

Condon already came into tonight with a solid save percentage (.915 before this shutout), and he’s now won four of his last five games. Three of his four career shutouts have come this season.

Ignoring his one relief appearance with Pittsburgh this season for the sake of simplicity, just consider his tough times with Montreal last season. He went 21-25-6 with a shaky .903 save percentage.

This marks just his 21st start and 23rd appearance of this season, so it’s not a guaranteee for future results. Still … it’s another example that goalies are as just about as unpredictable as they are crucial to a team’s fate.

More and more, it seems like Condon might just be a difference-maker, and in the positive sense this time around.

Greiss blanks Stars as Isles win in first game of post-Capuano era

NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 19:  Doug Weight of the New York Islanders handles his first game as head coach against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 19, 2017 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The New York Islanders began the Doug Weight era in the same way Jack Capuano’s ended: with a shutout.

Yeah, it’s easy to forget that the Islanders actually won their last game under Capuano, consider all that’s happened since.

They blanked the Boston Bruins 4-0 on Monday and generated a 3-0 shutout against the Dallas Stars on Thursday. It’s quite a feather in the cap of goalie Thomas Greiss, who owns these back-to-back shutouts.

(It’s worth mentioning that, for all the Bruins’ and Stars’ flaws, they can be very explosive on offense …)

That Monday shutout wasn’t enough for Capuano to save his job, and the Isles still have a long way to go after this encouraging outcome. The East’s second wild card spot still seems like a long shot for Weight & Co.

Even so, the Islanders will take it. They play their next five games at home and seven of eight in Brooklyn, so if there’s ever a time for movement, it would logically come now.

If nothing else, maybe life will be a bit better for John Tavares. He scored another goal on Thursday to add to his beautiful 1-0 tally.

Baby steps, right?