Vancouver Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo and Dallas Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki aren’t all that much alike, but they might have almost the same feeling of relief in two consecutive nights.
Luongo is the starting netminder for a juggernaut of a team that is trying to avoid an upset against an underdog Boston Bruins team while few picked Nowitzki’s Mavericks to get beyond the second round of the NBA playoffs. Luongo has been sensational in victory (two shutouts and just two goals allowed in three wins) and terrible in defeat (12 goals allowed in less than two full games) while Nowitzki rarely hit any drastic lows* in a great Dallas run.
Really, the best NHL comparison one could make to Nowitzki would probably be San Jose Sharks center Joe Thornton. They’re both big, blond scorers who received excessive criticism over the years for “choking” and being “soft” despite consistently putting up solid postseason numbers.
That being said, Luongo could join Nowitzki in the “Ex-Chokers Club” with a Stanley Cup victory tonight just about 24 hours after The Big German was able to shake that media-inspired monkey off his back. Despite putting up the kind of numbers that could gain Hall of Fame consideration, both Bobby Lou and Dirk have been scapegoats time and time again, falling victim to the lazy sportswriter habit of finding the first star to blame.
It’s true that Luongo occasionally makes things more difficult for himself, though. One cannot help but wonder why he made those comments about Tim Thomas; what exactly was he trying to accomplish? Either way, Dan Rosen writes that Luongo can shut those critics up with one more win. (It’s pretty tough to badmouth a guy who won a gold medal and Stanley Cup in his career, after all.)
“Even him winning the Olympic gold wasn’t good enough. That’s too bad,” Canucks captain Henrik Sedin said. “People in that dressing room, we know that he’s a winner. He’s done it on every stage before and if it happens (Monday), I hope people can stop criticizing him.”
For now, the talk is all about what he had to say about Thomas and how poorly he played in Boston in Games 3 and 4.
It’s up to Luongo to change the conversation. It’s up to him to shut everyone up.
“If you win the Stanley Cup, no one can say anything about you,” Daniel Sedin said. “That’s what we all want to do and he’s no different than the rest of us. We know he’s going to have a good game for us. Hopefully that will be enough.”
It wouldn’t be shocking if there will be a small segment of the hockey population who would still find a way to bash Luongo even if he won the Cup. Maybe they’ll say he was out-played overall in the series or that he got lucky in the first round in Chicago. Still, it’s a lot tougher to get other people to nod their heads in agreement when everyone can simply look back on all of Luongo’s achievements – both as an individual and as part of a team.
Ultimately, Luongo has two chances (one tonight and one on Wednesday) to echo what Nowitzki did Sunday night: get the last laugh.
* – One could argue that Nowitzki did, indeed, struggle in the Mavericks’ Game 6 win. That being said, he still managed to get 21 points thanks to a strong fourth quarter performance.