Published November 20, 2014
As fast as Roberto Luongo's confidence crumbled in Games 3 and 4, nothing was more impressive than how fast his confidence was recaptured in Game 5. With 31 razor-sharp saves and his second shutout of the series, Luongo bounced back from two bad outings and led the Canucks to within one win of hoisting the Stanley Cup.
But how did Luongo turn things around in time for Game 5, and how was that turnaround reflected on the ice? Below are just a few of the dynamics that I feel played a vital role in Luongo's success on Friday night:
›› The Walk: In my previous piece for NHL.com, I explained how bouncing back is a crucial component to successful goaltending. With that in mind, be sure to read Dave Lozo's portrait of Luongo's walk on the Vancouver seawall.
This is a perfect example of a goalie mentally preparing for a big game. Amidst the internal and external pressures of playing in such a big game in the frenzied Vancouver scene, the ability for Luongo to isolate himself, re-focus and block out potential negative messages was the most important key to his success in Game 5.
As Luongo explained, he only takes the walk when he needs to clear his mind. This time around, he used it to block out negative messages and reinforce positive messages. This played a major role in allowing him to hit the ice for Game 5 with a reassured and confident mindset.
The act of taking this walk was proof of Luongo's mental toughness, as it gave him the edge he needed in Game 5.
›› Early Saves: In a "must-win" setting, the toughest save for a goalie to make is the first one. But with a focused mind and good support from his defensemen, Luongo accomplished this feat in a technically-sound fashion.
Facing a few routine shots in the first five minutes certainly helped, but once Boston was awarded three straight power plays, Luongo was mentally ready to come up with some momentum-building saves for the Canucks.
None was more important or more visually appealing than the pair of saves he made when Patrice Bergeron was left all alone in the low slot. The rebound save, which was made with the back side of Luongo's blocker, acted as visible proof that he was very attentive, engaged and in control of his movements.
As the first period continued, Luongo's early saves made it easier to control and absorb rebounds. That injected even more confidence and composure not only into himself, but more importantly, into his teammates and fans.
›› Aggressiveness: In Game 4, I thought Luongo appeared passive, complacent and somewhat hesitant at times. This body language is often exacerbated due to the fact he plays deeper in his crease than in seasons past.
But in Game 5, I noticed a more aggressive Luongo. Part of this was due to his active footwork, which allowed him to move with more speed and with a higher sense of urgency compared to Game 4. Throughout the game, Luongo looked rejuvenated and re-energized. He clearly moved with better precision, making most of his saves look easy.
On at least three different occasions in Game 5, I also saw Luongo use his stick to quickly tap or poke at a Bruins player as they cruised past him. Although they were subtle moves, they acted as visible proof that he had a more aggressive mindset than in Games 3 and 4. He was not going to back down from anyone or anything.
Finally, Luongo's post-save movements were much sharper than in the previous two games. His ability to locate pucks and make the initial save, then quickly rotate his hips, shoulders and entire body to get into position for any second or third opportunities was very fluid, smooth and efficient.
Essentially, Luongo showed me he simply wanted the puck more than in Games 3 and 4. He didn't sit back and wait for bad things to happen. Instead, he challenged shooters a little more than usual and established a bigger and more confident presence in the crease. In that regard, Luongo's aggressiveness was a major key to his success.
›› The Three R's: After Luongo made his early saves, he settled into a solid rhythm and executed in a relaxed manner. With 31 saves for the shutout, Luongo accomplished three R's that led to his terrific bounce-back effort.
First of all, the walk "reset" his focus. Then his early saves quickly "restored" his confidence. Finally, his two timely saves on Bergeron, plus a few more timely stops in the first, "radiated" that confidence out to his teammates.
Overall, Luongo took the necessary steps to forget the past and mentally prepare himself for Game 5. It wasn't enough for him to just take the walk and know he was confident; he also had to show it. And in Game 5, he showed it with a more aggressive and resilient demeanor.
More importantly, Luongo's body language reestablished confidence in his teammates, which will be a must-have as the Canucks continue to prepare for Game 6 in Boston.