Goalie graveyard returns

HOSEA CHEUNG, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

Just when all was well in the Canucks' crease, the curse has returned.

It's a curse that has labelled Vancouver a 'goalie graveyard' over the years. The curse that has seen 26 different goaltenders hit the ice in Canucks colours over the past 11 campaigns.

The curse that has brought disappointment, dejection, and despair to Vancouver fans season after season. And now it's back - albeit with a little twist.

Unlike previous years where net uncertainties were due to poor play, it's injuries that are striking the masked men this time around.

Looking back, fans suffered through the dark days of the Garth Snows, the Felix Potvins, and the Dan Cloutiers, but that revolving door of goaltending failures officially slammed shut June 29, 2006 when former general manager Dave Nonis acquired Roberto Luongo from Florida.

Since then, the cheers for "Bob-E" were replaced by chants for "Lu", the days of Johan the Terrible were forgotten, and even the horrors of Martin Brochu were repressed.

So when Luongo suffered a groin injury on a seemingly harmless play Nov. 22 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, there was a brief panic.

"Your goaltender is the most important position in hockey, and when your best player is your goaltender, you definitely notice the difference," said assistant captain Willie Mitchell.

Although the Canucks have been unable to even come close to the 8-0-2 run they enjoyed in November, it's not as if the team has completely tanked either - going 9-11-3 sans Luongo - thanks to Curtis Sanford and Jason LaBarbera.

Having missed three games himself with a brief groin injury earlier this month, Sanford has been solid since Luongo went down - recording six wins, six losses, a 2.71 goals against average, and a shutout. LaBarbera, on the other hand, is putting up his own satisfactory numbers - two wins, one loss, two shootout losses, and a .917 save percentage - since being acquired from the L.A. Kings on Dec. 30.

But the B.C. native knows that his time wearing the blue and green may be short-lived.

"I'm just thinking one game at a time and prove that I can play well every night," LaBarbera said.

But whether or not coach Alain Vigneault will continue to ride the hot backup hand for now is a minor question compared to the many in need of answering when Luongo returns, which could very well be against Phoenix at home on Thursday.

Will Vigneault carry three goalies down the stretch? How long will it take Luongo to regain his November form? Did Luongo's injuries cost Vancouver valuable points in the standings - considering that the Canucks have lost eight one-goal games without him?

The backups have held the fort so far in the captain's absence but even that stronghold seems to be crumbling.

One can only hope that this minor crease curse is temporary because Vancouver's postseason dreams just might depend on the crease.


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