Playoffs or bust for Luongo

TERRY KOSHAN, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 9:44 AM ET

Roberto Luongo has no idea what it's like to dress for a National Hockey League playoff game.

But whether the Vancouver Canucks get to the post-season this spring after failing to make it a year ago rests largely on the goaltender's shoulders.

Luongo, the centrepiece in the deal for the Canucks last June that made Todd Bertuzzi a member of the Florida Panthers, never got to the playoffs with the Panthers or in one season with the New York Islanders.

"Nothing really matters to me except making it to the dance," Luongo said. "This is what I play for. This year for me that's all that matters. I'm not really looking at numbers or statistics. I want to get in no matter how we get in and take it from there."

The Canucks visit the Air Canada Centre tonight for the first time since Nov. 24, 2003.

Few figure the Canucks, who were in seventh place in the Western Conference with 49 points before last night, would be where they are without Luongo. The 27-year-old Montreal native has been voted to start in the all-star game in Dallas later this month and has been an ironman, appearing in 41 of 44 games this season.

Only Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils has spent more minutes doing his job this season. Luongo has a 2.50 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage, important numbers on a club that is 27th in NHL scoring with 109 goals.

"We would like him not to be that big a factor for us," teammate Trevor Linden said. "He's a confident guy but he is really down-to-Earth and that does not happen all the time. Those guys don't come along very often.

HARD WORKERS

"He was kind of hidden in south Florida. It's good he is playing in Canada because people are going to know how good this guy is."

When he was coaching the Carolina Hurricanes, Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice saw plenty of Luongo when the latter was with Florida. Maurice knows what his team likely will get tonight.

"They work really hard and they get great goaltending," Maurice said. "This is not going to be, I don't think, a free-flowing, up-and-down-the-ice affair. The challenge for us is to find a way to hate them enough before the puck drops."


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