Luongo wins battle of goaltenders

By PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Never again will they be able to say Roberto Luongo can’t win the big one.

Because Sunday afternoon, with an entire nation watching and the pressure ratcheted to extreme, Luongo won the biggest one of all, out-dueling the best goalie in the Olympic tournament, the U.S.’s Ryan Miller.

The goaltender, who has yet to lead his NHL team to a conference final, will wake up an Olympic champion after backstopping Team Canada to Sunday’s 3-2 overtime win over the Americans.

“There was pressure,” Luongo said. “But it was so much fun. I had a blast. At the end of the day, I’m a gold medallist and nobody can take that away.”

The Yanks almost did.

In fact, they sensed Bobby-Lou, as they call him here, was a tad shaky Sunday afternoon.

Several times Luongo was fighting the puck, unable to make routine catches or corral rebounds.

Eventually, a 2-0 Canadian lead disappeared.

“We thought he was shaky and we thought we could have got some good breaks on him,” U.S. defenceman Jack Johnson said.

You can’t say Luongo let in a bad goal, although his coach said he’d probably want the first one back.

“The one little drive where Kesler got it tipped, he might have liked to squeeze it,” Mike Babcock said. “But he made some key saves. And he made a huge save to prevent the Americans from scoring first. One of their guys ended up in the slot and he got the pad out.

“Scoring first is a huge deal in a thing like today, especially if you’re the home team. You can relax a little bit and settle in.”

I’m not sure Luongo ever looked relaxed. As far as having a blast, we’ll take his word for it.

But through 60 minutes he was a clear runner-up in the battle of the goalies.

The two shots to beat Miller, by Jonathan Toews and Corey Perry, were from point-blank range, after mistakes by the U.S. defence. The Buffalo Sabres star didn’t have a prayer.

He was called on to make more big saves than Luongo, too.

“Miller was fantastic,” Babcock said.

“We threw a lot at him again,” Toews chipped in. “He was one of their best players.”

Nobody in the losing locker-room was surprised.

“Ryan Miller’s been the best goalie the whole tournament,” Johnson said. “He’s been our best player every game.”

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca

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