Cory Schneider is ready for the challenge.
Ready to get on a roll, like he did in November when the back-up goaltender got an unprecedented seven straight starts and won five straight, like he excelled in spot starts in January against Boston and Chicago, like he must if the Canucks are to keep climbing out of the 0-3 hole they dug for themselves to begin this first-round playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings.
Schneider was excellent in 1-0 loss in Game 3 and even better in a 3-1 Vancouver win in Game 4 that included a key stop on a Dustin Brown penalty shot.
But when head coach Alain Vigneault opted to continue with Schneider in goal for Game 4, fuelling speculation that it indicates the Roberto Luongo era is ending in Vancouver, it also ramped up the expectation on the back-up who’s now the starter.
Schneider, at 26, seven years younger than Luongo, has just three career playoff starts, but he believes the increased playing time he received this season and the starts in big games has helped him prepare for this moment.
“It’s good getting used to playing in those scenarios, where there’s all that excitement and pressure that goes along with those games,” said Schneider. “I do think it helps. It’s good to know I’ve got the confidence of my teammates and coach and the management that I can go out and win those games. I think it has helped and hopefully it’ll pay off.”
Schneider, a Canucks’ first-round pick (26th overall) in 2004 has had lots of exposure to high-pressure games. He played in two U.S. college national championships for Boston College, the world junior tournament for Team USA, as well as the AHL championship Calder Cup when he was with the Manitoba Moose.
“I think pressure is what you make of it,” said Schneider. “If you let opinions and other people get to you and get in your head, then it’s going to create pressure. But if you go out there and enjoy the moment and play for your teammates and yourself and your family and friends then it becomes fun.”
Schneider made 43 saves in his gem in Game 4. His numbers are terrific: In two games his goals against average is 1.02 and save percentage is .969 – which leads the NHL playoffs. L.A. goaltender Jonathan Quick isn’t far behind – in four games, his GAA is 1.76 and SP is .952. Both goalies are the same age and grew up playing against each other in high school and college in New England. They didn’t face each other in the AHL and this is the first time in the NHL.
In what’s been a tight-checking, stingy-scoring series, Schneider knows he’ll need another high-end performance to keep his team alive. And he expects the Kings to make things even harder on him.
“I’m sure they’re going to do everything we’ve been trying to do to their guy – just trying to get more bodies around the net, deflections, screens, tips, everything,” said Schneider. “I’m sure they’re going to try to crash the net more and jam away at loose pucks and get inside position, just like with any guy you’re trying to score on.”
Schneider knows the odds don’t favour his team, so all he can do is try to win the next game.
“I think every team believes they can come back from 3-0, but the odds are that not many do,” he said. “You try to draw inspiration from within your own room. We just have to worry about winning this game and you never know what can happen after that.”