The Canucks have yet to win hockey’s Holy Grail in its 42-year existence, but they certainly came close thanks to two great goaltenders. Game 7 of the Cup final close.
These two netminders are Kirk McLean and Roberto Luongo. In 1994, McLean took the Canucks on his back and carried them to the Cup Final against the heavily favored New York Rangers before losing to them by a score of 3-2 in Game 7.
Seventeen years later, the team hopped on Luongo’s back all the way to the Cup Final against the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately for the Canucks, Luongo was outdueled by Bruins’ netminder Tim Thomas in a Bruins 4-3 series victory.
While neither netminder was able to deliver the franchise’s first Cup, they did make the Canucks’ a Cup contender for several years and gave the team the goaltending they needed to get to within a victory of winning it all.
In some instances, a goaltender just fits in with a certain team.
This was the case for Kirk McLean and the Vancouver Canucks. When McLean was traded by the New Jersey Devils along with Greg Adams and a second round choice (Leif Rohlin), it was the best thing that could have happened to McLean and to the Canucks.
In 1988-89, McLean finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting behind Patrick Roy and got the team into the postseason, where they lost to the eventual Cup-champion Calgary Flames. The following season, he made his first All-Star Game appearance and was the top goaltender in the Skills competition.
Two seasons later, McLean was even better. That year, the Canucks’ masked man won 38 games, made his second All-Star Game appearance, led the Canucks to their first Smythe Division title since 1975 and once again was a Vezina Trophy finalist, this time finishing second behind Roy.
It was not until the 1993-94 season that McLean’s efforts would be noticed by the rest of the NHL. That season, McLean took the seventh seeded Canucks all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the New York Rangers.
En route to the Final, McLean made perhaps one of the best saves in NHL postseason history. In Game 7 of the first round against the No. 2 seed Flames, McLean stacked the pads in overtime to rob forward Robert Reichel in the first overtime before Canucks’ superstar forward Pavel Bure scored the eventual winner in the second overtime.
While that save allowed the Canucks to get to the second round, McLean was even better in Game 1 of the Final against the Blueshirts. McLean was unbelievable in making 52 saves in his team’s 3-2 double overtime victory and after the game was over, then Canucks’ head coach Pat Quinn said that McLean’s performance should be sent "in an instructional package to young goaltenders."
Trailing 3-1 in the series, McLean then helped his team crawl their way back into the series with impressive performances in Game 5 at Madison Square Garden and then Game 6 before losing 3-2 in Game 7. That postseason, McLean set records (now broken) with 1,544 minutes played, 820 shots faced and 761 saves, while also posting a 15-9 record with a 2.29 GAA and .928 save percentage.
Following the 1993-94 season, McLean would never again come close to winning a Cup or even regaining his outstanding netminding form. However, McLean will always have a place in the hearts of Canucks’ fans as one of the team’s greatest goaltenders and players of all-time.
Speaking of the greatest Canucks in franchise history, there is no doubt that when discussing players to put on that list, goaltender Roberto Luongo will certainly fill in one of the spots.
Prior to becoming a Canuck in the 2006-07 season, Luongo was an All-Star goaltender for the lowly Florida Panthers. Night after night in the Sunshine state, Luongo was bombarded with pucks, including 2,475 of them in the 2003-04 season, and night after night, Luongo was the best goaltender on the ice.
Unfortunately for Luongo and the rest of the NHL, he was not getting the attention that he deserved. This all changed in the summer of 2006 when the Canucks went out and acquired Luongo from the Panthers and then signed him to a four-year, $27 million deal.
Immediately, Luongo was noticed by the rest of the hockey world as he went out and made the Canucks a contender again by providing something that the team had not had since McLean: stability. In his first season as a Canuck, Luongo won 47 games (one win behind league leader Martin Brodeur of the New Jersey Devils), posted a 2.29 GAA, had a .921 save percentage and picked up five shutouts. He also helped the team win the Northwest Division with 105 points.
That postseason, Luongo almost set a postseason record for saves in his first ever playoff game in the first round against the Dallas Stars. That night, Luongo made 72 saves en route to a 5-4 quadruple overtime win.
Luongo would go on to have several excellent regular seasons only to fall short in the postseason each year. From 2008 to 2010, Luongo appeared in two All-Star games (2008 and 2009), get nominated for a Vezina Trophy (2008), be the team’s most valuable player (2008), and be named team captain (2008 to 2010).
Unfortunately for Luongo and the Canucks, postseason success had been hard to come by. In both 2009 and 2010, Luongo and the Canucks were knocked out of the playoffs by the Blackhawks and done so in convincing fashion.
This all changed in 2011. Without the captaincy and his game in top form, Luongo took the Canucks all the way to the Final against the Boston Bruins.
Luongo was able to get the team to Game 7 but it was not without controversy. While Luongo played well on home ice, he was absolutely dreadful in Boston and played a big part in the team’s losses in Game 3, Game 4 and Game 6.
While Luongo has not been able to win a Cup with the team, he is/was certainly a goaltender that made the Canucks a much better hockey team and did so by winning a lot of games and putting up great numbers on a consistent basis.