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Luongo always center of attention

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Since joining the Vancouver Canucks six years ago, goaltender Roberto Luongo has often found himself the center of attention.

The best goalie to ever wear a Vancouver uniform, Luongo has been praised for helping to elevate the Canucks into an elite team in the NHL. He's also been pointed to as the reason Vancouver has failed to win a Stanley Cup.

When Luongo faced a herd of media in the Canucks' dressing room Friday, he was asked about the thick skin he's developed.

"Over the last six years or the last five minutes?" he said with a grin.

The 33-year-old from Montreal might be smiling on the outside, but playing the role of backup while the Canucks fight for their playoff lives must be shredding his pride.

Cory Schneider started the past two games for the Canucks in their first-round playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings and stopped 43 shots in Wednesday's 3-1 win, which extended Vancouver's life for one more game.

The Canucks trail 3-1 in the best-of-seven series. Coach Alain Vigneault has refused to say who will be Vancouver's goaltender in Sunday's Game 5 at Rogers Arena. It's hard to believe anyone other than Schneider will start.

This leaves Luongo in an unfamiliar role, watching another goaltender take center stage in the biggest game of the Canucks' season.

"I'm a competitor; you guys all know that," said Luongo, who has been nominated three times for the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goaltender. "It's tough. At the same time, this is about the team. I'm not going to put myself ahead of the team.

"We're in this together. We worked hard all year to be in this position. Right now, I am going to do the best I can to be ready in case I'm needed. I'm 100 percent behind Cory and my teammates."

A sulking Luongo would be one more adversity the Canucks don't need. Instead he has remained supportive of Schneider and understands the decision Vigneault made.

"Even though I felt I did all right in the first two games, you always want to do better for the guys," he said. "We didn't win. At the end of the day, that's what matters."

Vigneault said the decision to go with Schneider wasn't "cut and dry."

"We have two great goaltenders, two quality individuals, two guys that want to play," he said. "As a coach, you have to do what you feel is best for that game for the team."

Schneider said Luongo has remained positive.

"He's always been great," said the 26-year-old from Marblehead, Mass. "He's been great to me and he's been great to the team.

"He's handled this extremely well. He hasn't said a word. He's been nothing but the true professional and great guy he is."

There already is speculation that Luongo has played his last game as a Canuck. With Schneider becoming a restricted free agent this summer and having shown the credentials to be a starter, the team is going to have to make a decision on which netminder to keep.

Vancouver GM Mike Gillis was asked whether what is happening now will affect who the goaltenders will be next season.

"I'm not sure," Gillis said in an interview on Team 1040 Radio, which broadcasts Canucks games. "We'll try to win this series and move on.

"If we do that, lots of things could continue to change. Thinking about one game is not the be all and end all, and certainly doesn't formulate a complete opinion for me."

Luongo said he doesn't pay attention to the media.

"I don't know exactly what is going on," he said. "Right now is not the time to be thinking about that kind of stuff.

"We want to be playing hockey for a little while here. That's what my focus needs to be on."

Schneider, who was paid $900,000 this season, had a 20-8-1 record, three shutouts, a 1.96 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage in the regular season. In his two playoff games this year, he has a 1.02 goals-against average and a .969 save percentage.

Luongo has a 12-year, $64 million contract that runs through the 2021-22 season. During the regular season, he had a 31-14-8 record, five shutouts, a 2.41 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. In the playoffs, he has a 3.59 goals-against average and a .891 save percentage.

But Schneider argued it's impossible to compare the body of playoff work between the goaltenders.

"I have won one career playoff game," he said. "Roberto won 15 last spring.

"I don't think we should jump the gun here. If you lose the next game, I don't think people will remember you went 1-2 in the playoffs."

Luongo can be so honest in his answers that he sometimes sounds arrogant. He created a controversy in last year's Stanley Cup finals for indirectly criticizing Boston goalie Tim Thomas' technique. Luongo then said he had been pumping Thomas's tires all series.

So far this year, Luongo is saying the right things and trying to quash any talk of a goaltender controversy in the Canucks' room.

"The last thing I want to be is a distraction for my teammates," he said. "The attention needs to be focused on the Canucks and Game 5 and what needs to be done for that game."