Roberto Luongo and Antti Niemi have met before, and as long-term goaltenders for two of the Western Conference’s powerhouses, will probably meet in the years to come. Niemi entered the Vancouver/San Jose series as an undefeated winner of six playoff series’, most notably besting Luongo in a second round matchup as a member of the Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks last season.
In Game One of the Sharks-Canucks series, the goaltenders stole the show. Neither had to make any unconscious saves, but the two combined for 62 stops and a .925 save percentage. Luongo’s perfect third period, with seven saves on seven attempts, led the Canucks to a first game victory, their seventh in a row in a streak dating back to 2009.
The two goaltenders have been relied on to give quality starts to both the Canucks and the Sharks this postseason. A quality start was defined by hockey analyst Rob Vollman as a game where a goalie earns a save percentage of .913, or a game where they allow a goals against average under two with a save percentage over .895.
While Niemi had a shaky series against Los Angeles, he was instrumental in holding Detroit off the scoresheet in the first few games of the second round. While Niemi has put up six quality starts in eight games since eliminating the Kings and was instrumental in holding Detroit off the scoreboard early in the series, his playoff record last season leaves a lot to be desired. He was not a big part of Chicago’s Cup win last year, giving Chicago just 10 quality starts, an .882 save percentage in the Stanley Cup Finals and a .898 save percentage in the series against the Canucks.
Roberto Luongo shook off poor play in Games Four and Five of the series against the Blackhawks, to return with a 31/32 save performance in Game Seven of the series and put up numbers in the Nashville series that had him besting a fellow Vezina Trophy candidate in Pekka Rinne. Luongo has had quality starts in seven of his last eight and nine out of 13 in the playoffs, a higher rate than Niemi’s.
For all the troubles and tribulations, including a gaffe where he passed a puck directly onto the stick of Joe Thornton for a first period goal Sunday night, Luongo for the most part has shaken off the criticism and has proved to be reliable in the playoffs. He has a .919 save percentage through 48 playoff games, a record identical to his regular season record. Despite shutting the door at even strength after the Thornton goal, Niemi, not Luongo, was given the second star. As Canuck backup Cory Schneider so put it judging the media’s reaction to Luongo’s play “If we win it’s not because of him and if we lose it’s his fault.”