VANCOUVER – A routine morning skate for the Vancouver Canucks turned into another circus when Roberto Luongo came off the ice ahead of No. 1 goalie Cory Schneider and revealed he would be starting Game 1 tonight against the San Jose Sharks.
Schneider has been nursing an undisclosed “body injury” but skated on his own Sunday and then practised with the full team both Monday and Tuesday. He was also the first netminder on the ice for today’s morning skate.
“Schneids is just not healthy enough right now,” said Canuck head coach Alain Vigneault. “We had an idea Tuesday and we told Louie before he left to be ready. This morning, when we talked to Schneids before practice, it was a pretty easy decision. I don’t think for our group that having Roberto in goal is a concern. He’s a pretty good goalie. He’s been through a lot of battles and played some really solid hockey for us. ”
Joe Cannata, who has 22 pro appearances in the AHL and ECHL, will be the back up. Luongo admitted he wasn’t completely surprised by this latest turn of events.
“The way things have been going the last year, I didn’t rule it out,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what was happening the whole week and then the decision was made that maybe it would be best to rest Cory for a couple of more days. For me, it’s an opportunity and I’m excited for it. I’m just excited to be playing some playoff hockey here.”
Luongo isn’t exactly entering tonight’s game in vintage form. He allowed a weak second goal to Anaheim last Thursday and was then ventilated by the Edmonton Oilers for six third-period goals Saturday. Granted, the Canucks had a watered down lineup against the Oilers but it still doesn’t excuse Luongo for some of the goals against.
“Like I said, in the Edmonton game, I really felt I had my ‘A’ game for 55 minutes and then we all saw what happened,” he explained. “I’ve had some good practices this week and I had a really sharp morning skate.”
Ryan Kesler was the only Canuck who didn’t skate this morning but Vigneault assured one and all he would be in the lineup.
“We’ve got him locked up in the back and we’re feeding him raw meat,” joked the coach. “The beast will be ready tonight. It was an optional. That’s the player’s call.”
Sharks defenceman Dan Boyle doesn’t figure facing Luongo, rather than Schneider, will make any difference to his side. Schneider played all three games against the Sharks this season.
“Nothing changes,” said Boyle. “Honestly, nothing changes. It’s always the same stuff with goalies… you know, traffic, rebounds and all that kind of stuff. Obviously I know Lou really well and I’m sure he’s going to be pumped for this.”
Boyle and Luongo were teammates on the Florida Panthers for a season and a half (2000-02) and again on the 2010 Canadian Olympic gold-medal winning team.
“Lou and I go back a long way,” Boyle noted. “I’ve known him for many years. Obviously he’s had to endure a lot this year and I don’t know how he’s done it, to be honest with you. He’s pretty strong-minded and I don’t think he’ll be fazed.”
Shark coach Todd McLellan essentially echoed Boyle’s comments on what Luongo starting means to his team’s preparation. Not much.
“I can tell you the fact there has been a lot of debate over which goaltender is going to start is a much bigger story in Vancouver than it is in the Sharks’ locker room,” McLellan said. “We’re going to have to beat a good goaltender either way. Their goaltenders are coached by the same goaltending coach and they’ve been together for a number of years in the organziation.”
McLellan has one lineup decision pending, whether to deploy veteran Scott Hannan or rookie Matt Tennyson as his sixth blueliner with Jason Demers out. James Sheppard will centre the Sharks’ fourth line rather than Scott Gomez (undisclosed) and Antti Niemi will start between the pipes.
ICE CHIPS: Daniel Sedin needs three points to pass Pavel Bure and move into third place in all-time Canucks playoff scoring. Daniel enters tonight’s game with 64 points. Henrik is No. 2 with 71 points while Trevor Linden tops the list at 95… The Sharks were 20-3-2 when scoring first during the regular season. The Canucks were 20-6-5… Referees tonight are Eric Furlatt and Francois St. Laurent. Kris King is the series supervisor.
INJURIES: The Canucks will be without G Cory Scheider (undisclosed), D Chris Tanev (ankle) and LW David Booth (ankle)… The Sharks will be missing D Jason Demers (lower body) and C Scott Gomez (undisclosed).
SHARKS AT CANUCKS
FIRST GAME, BEST-OF-SEVEN SERIES
TONIGHT, 7:30 PM, ROGERS ARENA
TV: TSN. RADIO: TEAM 1040.