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Game #39 – Panthers vs. Hawks Spotlight: Is This It, Bobby Lou?

He won’t start tonight, so Hawks fans may not get another glimpse of Roberto Luongo. This also may be the final time he steps inside the United Center, which will be something of a relief for him. He’ll also take some of our best memories with him.

Luongo has battled injury problems this year, and he’s already 39. When he has been in the lineup, he hasn’t been terribly good, barely clinging onto a .900 SV%. He hasn’t been helped by a Panthers blue line that would be the equivalent of button-mashing, but .900 is .900.

The confusing part for Luongo and the Panthers of course, is that he’s coming off a superb year. He was .929 last year. So did the injury take that much of a toll? Has he aged in just a few months? Does it happen that quickly? No one’s going to have the answers.

There are contract considerations. Luongo has one of those extra-special cap-circumventing deals. His hit is $5.3M, but his actual salary is only $3.8M. That drops to $1.6M next year, and $1M the following two seasons. $3.6M is a lot of money to you and me, but is it when you’ve already banked $60M of a $64M contract? We don’t think Bob is going to come up with a skin problem like some others who had similar contracts, but…

The Panthers won’t mind much if Luongo heads for the hills. The recapture penalties are mostly going to hit the Canucks, who signed him to that deal. So they won’t be pressuring him either way.

What Luongo will be taking with him, should he retire after the season, is one of the more remarkable goaltending careers in NHL history. He’s already put up two of the best seasons a goalie over 35 has. He’s had nine seasons over .920, which not even¬† Dominik Hasek managed.

Sadly, Luongo won’t end his career with much hardware. He never did win a Vezina. He famously never did get that Cup, and a Jennings Trophy is all he’ll have. Those playoff meltdowns are going to mark whatever he does, be they the surrender in Game 6 in ’09 to Patrick Kane or the series-long dissection by the Hawks in ’10 or the Game 7 spit up in ’11 when the Canucks were on the precipice. Luongo will retire with career .918 SV% in the playoffs, which is hardly embarrassing, but is anyone going to remember that? Life in sports is rarely fair.

He’ll also go as one of the biggest Hawks foils from their golden era. It was the Canucks own craziness that churned Luongo’s brain, and the ovation welcoming him into Game 6 in ’11 when Cory Schneider got hurt, after Luongo had been pulled as starter, is one of the louder ones in United Center history. It was as if he tried to escape and couldn’t. He thought the demons were excised in Game 7, but were they really?

His battles with Kane and Dustin Byfuglien will live in Hawks history forever. Those series against the Hawks and the ’11 Final poisoned the water for him in B.C. for pretty much ever, which led to his trade to Florida. Strange that the Canucks haven’t won a playoff series since.

Luongo probably deserved better. One wonders if anyone will ever recognize it.


Game #39 Preview Suite




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