- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- Vancouver Canucks coach Alain Vigneault has decided that the team’s top goaltender, Roberto Luongo, will not start against the Boston Bruins on Saturday at TD Garden. Instead, backup netminder (and local boy) Cory Schneider will get the nod against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Vigneault said the decision had nothing to do with what happened during the Stanley Cup Final last spring, when the Bruins outscored the Canucks 17-3 in three games at TD Garden and Luongo was pulled in two of those games.
“No, no,” the coach said. “Louie just got off a shutout and he’s playing really well. I just decided that Schneider was the guy.”
“We have two goaltenders here that we have confidence in,” Vigneault said after his team practiced on Friday at Harvard University. “Every game, and we’ve played 41 so far, you can make a case to play one or the other. In this instance, I decided Cory would be the goaltender.”
When pressed on why he decided to go with Schneider, Vigneault remained coy.
“All year long I haven’t gotten into specifics why I’m choosing one goaltender over the other,” Vigneault said. “In this case here you could make a case that Louie would want to get back at it, and you could make a case for Schneider finally, after five years, getting a chance to play in front of friends and family. At the end of the day, the decision is mine and I’ll keep my final reasons to myself.”
Luongo made 28 saves to help the Canucks to a 3-0 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Wednesday in Vancouver. Overall, he’s 17-8-3 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage in 28 games this season.
“Obviously I would have liked to play the game, but in fairness to Cory, he’s from here and he deserves to play this game,” Luongo said. “I’m all for it.
“At the end of the day the win is what matters the most. Cory’s from here and we don’t get a chance to come here very often, it’s a good opportunity to play in front of his family and friends.”
“I’ve always played well in this building, unfortunately it didn’t translate for the final last year,” added Luongo. “I don’t get intimidated by buildings. When we’re on the ice we’re playing a hockey game and nothing is going to change the outcome of what happens outside the ice surface. I kind of enjoy it more when there’s a little bit of hostility because it gets me going.”
Schneider is 8-5-0 in 14 starts this season with a 2.16 GAA and a .931 save percentage.
“Cory’s been doing a fabulous job since last year and since he’s been here,” Luongo said. “Whether he’s been playing more, or he hasn’t played in weeks, he comes in and does an unbelievable job for us, so I don’t expect things to be any different tomorrow and I’m sure he’s excited about playing in his hometown and he’s going to give us a chance to win.”
Vigneault told Schneider, a native of Marblehead, Mass., and former Boston College standout, on Friday afternoon that he would be starting against the defending Stanley Cup champions.
“It’s great,” Schneider said. “I’m not sure if I was expecting it, but it’s going to be a lot of fun being able to play in my hometown, but more importantly to play a big game for our team against probably the best team in the league right now. It’ll be a great challenge for me personally and for our team. I just hope I can step up and deliver a big game.”
Because Luongo struggled in Boston during the finals, it would appear that Vigneault is protecting his No. 1 goalie from another possible embarrassment at the hands of the Bruins. But Vigneault again insisted that’s not the case.
"It’s a 1 o’clock game, so like everyone else, everybody understands that it’s Game 42, a non-conference game," he said. "Probably for the players, what’s at stake here is the fact that both teams competed real hard for the Cup and obviously both teams will be ready.
"I don’t think if we win tomorrow they’re going to give us the Cup back. We lost that last year and this is a different year, a different team, it’s Game 42.”
Schneider said he doesn’t believe the coach is hiding Luongo.
"I know Lu has been playing really well lately, but maybe coach just wanted to give me the opportunity to play in my hometown, and if that’s the case, it’s a great gesture by him," he said.
"Of course Lu wanted to play this game, he wants to play every game, especially a game like this," Schneider added. "He would be looking forward to it for redemption, or prove some people wrong, I’m just going to have to fill in tomorrow.”