|Roberto Luongo and Tim Thomas|
After Game 5, a 1-0 shutout win at home for the Vancouver Canucks, heavily scrutinized goaltender was asked about the lone goal in the game, a shot along the goal line by Vancouver's Maxim Lapierre. Defenseman Kevin Bieksa shot the puck wide of the net intentionally from the blue line, and Lapierre took the carom off the boards and put it towards the net. Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who has seen his positional play scrutinized in this series, was aggressive in challenging Bieksa's shot. He had to scramble to recover for the rebound, and the puck banked into the net off of him. Luongo's quote:
"It's not hard if you're playing in the paint. It's an easy save for me, but if you're wandering out and aggressive like he does, that's going to happen. He might make some saves that I won't, but in a case like that, we want to take advantage of a bounce like that and make sure we're in a good position to bury those."
This comes from a goaltender who gave up twelve goals combined in Games 3 and 4, and fourteen in total for the series. Thomas has given up six goals in the five games. Luongo isn't in a great position to even come close to criticizing Thomas.
The media, especially in Boston, has interpreted this quote as an arrogant, cocky insult to Thomas from Luongo. It's being looked at as an attack on Thomas, and that does not fly these days in Boston.
But that's not what Luongo was trying to do. He was asked a question, and he answered it honestly. Was he right? It's tough to say if Luongo would have stopped that same exact shot, but it makes sense to say that he would've been deeper in his crease on Bieksa's shot and would not have had to scramble to get ready for Lapierre's shot. Luongo did seem to realize while he was speaking that his quote might be taken as an insult, so he added that Thomas would make some saves that Luongo might not.
Luongo made a few mistakes, though. First, he said it would have been an "easy save." Saying he would have had a better chance to stop the shot is fine, but to label it an easy save comes off as arrogant. He played well in Game 5, just as he did in Games 1 and 2 in Vancouver, but after Games 3 and 4 any hint of arrogance at all from Luongo comes off as petty. Regardless of which team wins, Thomas looks like the favorite to win the Conn Smythe for playoff MVP. He has outplayed Luongo in this series. Luongo should've either waved off the question or given a vanilla response. It's always refreshing to hear an athlete speak honestly, but in this case it didn't come off well.
Luongo didn't help himself when he spoke again yesterday. His follow-up quote:
"I have been pumping his tires ever since the series started. I haven't heard one nice thing he had to say about me. That's the way it is."
Luongo just sounds whiny here. So what if Thomas hasn't said anything nice about you? He hasn't said anything bad, has he? Why does Luongo need validation from Tim Thomas? It makes Luongo seem emotionally fragile off the ice; he already has a reputation, whether justified or not, for being emotionally fragile on the ice.
Thomas' response to Luongo's follow-up comments? "I didn't realize it was my job to pump his tires. I guess I have to apologize for that." Thomas has avoided saying too much about Luongo's comments, but Thomas thrives on criticism. After Game 2, he was pestered with questions about his unorthodox goaltending style. He allowed one goal in the next two games, and kept up his amazing performance in Game 5. Great athletes love to take even the slightest critical comment and use it as motivation. Luongo may have unknowingly provided Thomas with even more motivation, and has also given Thomas' teammates motivation to make Luongo regret his words.
Luongo's comments have been taken out of context, and made to seem far more insulting than they actually were. But Luongo should not have said what he said, in the way he said it. He may have given Thomas and the Bruins extra motivation, and now Luongo has to go back to Boston for Game 6 Monday, where he gave up twelve goals in two games. I doubt the Bruins will give him any "easy saves."