VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA (AP) - In the hours leading up Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo tapped a reporter on the shoulder and asked, "You still believe in me, right?
It's a question Vancouver fans will be asking all summer. Given the way angry mobs burned the city after the Game 7 loss Wednesday night, Luongo might not like the answers.
Luongo gave up three goals on 13 shots through two periods, finishing with 16 saves in a 4-0 loss Wednesday night to a Boston team that was supposed to struggle to score. He was beaten 18 times in the final five games, losing four of them, while fellow Vezina Trophy nominee Tim Thomas 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," said the dejected Luongo, his voice breaking slightly as he fought back tears. "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 won't be alone in the blame game.
Captain Henrik Sedin 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 defense.
"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 6-foot-9 defensive star and captain, shut down the Sedins is not a huge surprise, but even with the extra attacker the twins came up short. The power play, tops in the league and a huge part of the NHL's best offense in the regular season, was 2 for 32 in the Cup finals and surrendered the backbreaking 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."
Like the Sedins, Bergeron's goal was a microcosm of Luongo's series.
With a penalty coming after defenseman Christian Ehrhoff hauled down Bergeron, Luongo seemed to give up on the play as the puck trickled toward him, and was left with his arms in the air wondering what had happened after he got knocked aside by the sliding players and the puck got knocked in by Bergeron. A lot of Canucks fans will have their hands up wondering about Luongo.
With 11 seasons left on a 12-year, $64 million contract the questions won't be going away anytime soon. If Luongo was questioned even after he backstopped Canada to an Olympic gold medal in this building almost 16 months earlier, it's hard to imagine how loud the doubters will be now.
It won't 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 arch-nemesis Chicago with a brilliant overtime save, and playing some of his best goal late in the conference finals. It won't matter Luongo is again a finalist for the Vezina, that he backstopped the Canucks to their first Presidents' Trophy as the league's best team during the regular season, or first Jennings trophy for fewest goals against.
That was the regular season.
"Playoffs 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 run support, or could have matched an NHL record with a third shutout in Game 7. All they will remember in Vancouver, a city once dubbed a "goalie graveyard" by former general manager Brian Burke, is how it ended, with three goals on 13 shots in two periods _ two of them strange.
If Luongo had little chance on the first goal _ a bang-bang shot from Patrice Bergeron in the slot that the goalie never saw before it was off his blocker-side post and in _ the last two were tough breaks. He dove across with his stick to stop Brad Marchand s wraparound, only to knock the puck in with his blocker. And the last one was just the kind of letdown his team couldn't afford.
Neither was his postgame assessment of his Boston counterpart after a 1-0 win in Game 5, when Luongo said the only goal to beat Thomas was a save he would have made. It was a simple style assessment of the aggressive Thomas, one that was overblown by the Boston media, but after pointing that out the following day, Luongo added he had been pumping Thomas tires all series, and getting no love in return. Instead, he got plenty of hate from the fans in Boston, and after three quick goals by the pumped-up Bruins, a second hook of the series.
"I don't think (the series) turned," Luongo said. "I learned a lot about myself these last couple months. We're devastated, but we're a good team and we'll be back."
The question now is whether Vancouver fans will want him.