VANCOUVER // Roberto Luongo fought back the tears less than 20 minutes after his Canucks had surrendered the Stanley Cup and said: "We'll be back.
After the worst loss of his career, a 4-0 defeat in Game 7 of the finals, Vancouver's goalie pledged he and his team would bounce back and return to compete for the cup again.
"We're devastated, but we're a good team and we'll be back," said the dejected Luongo, his voice breaking slightly.
With 11 years left on a 12-year, US$64 million (Dh235m) contract, Luongo should be back for a long time. The question is whether Vancouver fans want him to return.
Luongo struggled mightily on the road in the finals and gave up three goals on 13 shots in the first two periods with the Stanley Cup on the line in Game 7.
Against a Boston team that was supposed to struggle to score, he was beaten 18 times the final five games, losing four of them, while Tim Thomas, his fellow Vezina Trophy nominee as the NHL's best goalie, stood on his head at the other end.
"As a team if we all could have stepped up a notch, starting with myself, we could have got the job done," Luongo said.
"We're devastated as a team. We worked all year to get to this point and to fall short like that is a tough one to take. It's a team game, we're not going to point fingers at one individual."
Luongo certainly does not shoulder all the blame.
Henrik Sedin, the Canucks captain, had one point in the cup finals, twin brother Daniel had four, and the winners of the last two scoring titles were on the ice for all four goals in Game 7. Both came quickly to Luongo's defence.
"We scored zero goals today," Daniel Sedin said. "So if you want to blame guys, blame all the guys, or blame us, it's not all up to him."
That Zdeno Chara, Boston's defensive star and captain, shut down the Sedins is not a huge surprise, but even with the extra attacker the twins came up short.
Vancouver's power play, top in the NHL and a huge part of the league's best offence in the regular season, was two for 33 in the cup finals and surrendered the back-breaking goal in Game 7, a short-handed breakaway by Patrice Bergeron late in the second period.
Like the Sedins, the power play finished the finals a minus, with two goals scored and three short-handed goals against.
"Didn't score," Henrik Sedin said about the difference. "Our line is there to score, and we couldn't score.
"We take a lot of blame for that. They got a great team. We had to beat five guys all the time, and when we did that they had Thomas. We couldn't beat him, and that's what we got to live with."
Luongo will have to live with even more doubters. Questioned even after helping Canada to an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver almost 16 months earlier, it's hard to imagine how loud the naysayers will be now.
It will not be enough that he got the Canucks to their third Stanley Cup finals in franchise history, bouncing back from being benched in the first round to win a tension-packed Game 7 against Chicago with a brilliant overtime save and playing some of his best hockey late in the conference finals.
It will not matter that Luongo is again a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, that he backstopped the Canucks to their first Presidents' Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season, or their first Jennings Trophy for fewest goals against.
That was the regular season. This was the Stanley Cup. "Play-offs is the hardest thing I've ever had to do," Luongo said.
"Mentally, it's just a grind the whole time. It's much tougher mentally than physically."
Fans will forget he won the first three home games of the cup finals despite getting only five goals of support or had the chance to match an NHL record with a third shutout in Game 7.
All they will remember in Vancouver, a city once dubbed a "goalie graveyard" by Brian Burke, a former general manager, is how it ended, with three goals on 13 shots in two periods - two of them strange.
* Associated Press
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