With the Stanley Cup playoffs about to get underway, Roberto Luongo's swagger is still in hiding.
The Vancouver Canucks' goaltender isn't talking about it – or assessing his season, either.
"It'll be summed up once the playoffs are over," he said on the weekend. "The end result is probably going to dictate how the season will go. We're all playing to win the Cup and that's our goal. The most important part of the year is coming up and that's what I'll judge myself by."
Usually a portrait of supreme confidence, Luongo judged himself harshly after a loss to the lowly Edmonton Oilers in late March, when he took the blame for all three goals against."I've got to find the consistency in my game that I had," he told reporters after the 3-2 setback in the Alberta capital. "Before, you had a bad game every 10 or 12 games. Now it seems every two or three games I am getting one where I am not at my best.
"I just have to find that consistency level back and make sure that game in and game out I have that swagger that I typically have."
The comments represented a rare display of self-doubt by the the NHL's only goaltender captain, proving that, alas, he is only human after all – even if he and his legion of fans and critics expect otherwise. Since his trade to a major Canadian NHL market from the Florida hinterland four years ago, he has never offered the paying public or media types a glimpse into his rituals or insecurities.
Usually a picture of supreme confidence, he's known to brush off bad games as easily as he makes routine saves with his blocker. But Luongo continued to struggle down the stretch. The most humiliating performance came April 1 in an 8-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings – the same club the Canucks will face in the first round of the playoffs.
Despite occasional flashes of his usual brilliance, he has not consistently showed the form that helped him backstop Canada to an Olympic gold medal victory over the U.S. in February.
The Canucks, who have overcome adversity all season long, had to deal with an injury-depleted defence corps, often leaving him to wonder who would be guarding his doorstep. And, having virtually secured a Northwest Division title and home-ice advantage with a month or more to go, the team had little in the ways of motivation.
But Luongo does not buy the argument that he faced added difficulty with the Canucks' playoff position well in hand.
"What's difficult about that, knowing that we're first in our division?" said Luongo, adding the Canucks have a veteran club.
"We're all competitors on the ice. We want to go out there and we want to win. As a team, as a professional athlete, we have that fire as a team. Even though games don't mean as much, we still want to go out there and win."
Their 5-4-2 record in the final 11 games raised questions about their ability to do just that in the playoffs – and Luongo's ability to conjure up his previous magic in net. But he has been reluctant to re-assess his game since his Edmonton meltdown, contending that he was just out to get wins. As the playoffs dawn, he is taking a simple approach to his daunting task.
"Just go out there and play.... Work hard in practice and make sure you feel good about yourself once Game 1 arrives," said Luongo.
Canucks centre Henrik Sedin has little doubt that Luongo, who was pulled seven times but still posted 40 wins and four shutouts during the regular season, will be ready.
"He's taken some heat, but he's used to it," said Sedin. "I mean, he won four game-seven-type games in the Olympics, so he knows what it takes. He won those games that he needed to win."
The Olympic pressure cooker might ultimately prove helpful, since it gave Luongo a chance to prepare early for the post-season. Shouldn't it?
"We'll see once it starts," said Luongo. "But obviously being in those types of situations, you use that to remind yourself about the need to be ready for those (playoff) games.... But at the end of the day it's just a hockey game. We've gotta go out there and play."
Until then, Luongo's legion of supporters won't know whether his swagger is AWOL or missing in action - a casualty of too many regular season and Olympic battles. Many are still fretting about their hero's frayed nerves.
But Canucks coach Alain Vigneault, who occasionally breached protocol and criticized Luongo late in the season, said he is not overly concerned.
"He's the last person I'm worried about," said Vigneault. "He's a real professional, and I know that he's going to do a real good job for us."