Midway through a physical 4-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Eddie Lack was beckoned to center ice by opposing goaltender Jonathan Quick, who had just ignited a skirmish by throwing two right hands at Canucks captain Henrik Sedin. Lack made it only as far as his own red line, offering a sensible explanation after the game.
"I may have a reach [advantage on Quick]," the 6-foot-4 Lack joked. "I think he's a little meaner than me."
It was a classic moment of levity after a big win for the affable Swede. In a season that has seen Lack, 27, emerge as a force in the Vancouver crease, his teammates have used all kinds of words to describe the quirky goaltender. But "mean" definitely isn't one of them.
"He's goofy," Canucks winger Nick Bonino said in describing Lack.
"Easy going, fun loving, always happy," teammate Chris Higgins said. "Almost to a fault sometimes."
"I would say he's one of those interesting goalies," forward Radim Vrbata added.
That's an especially telling comment coming from Vrbata, who spent four seasons with the then-Phoenix Coyotes playing alongside goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, a character so colorful he practically appropriated the phrase "enigmatic Russian" all for himself.
Lack's wide-eyed approach to social media has already established him as a Vancouver fan favorite. With starting goaltender Ryan Miller currently sidelined by a knee injury, Lack's play has done the rest.
The Canucks were just a few months removed from a year-long goalie controversy involving Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider when Lack suddenly found himself embroiled in a new drama last season. With Schneider traded to the New Jersey Devils in June 2013, Lack usurped the veteran Luongo when he was named the starting goaltender for the 2014 Heritage Classic at BC Place in Vancouver. Two days later, Luongo was traded to the Florida Panthers and the unheralded, undrafted Lack became the man in Vancouver.
"It was weird. But at the end of the day, [Luongo] wanted to get traded," Lack said. "He has a house there and his family like it down [in Florida]. I was just happy for him. We still keep in touch and I'm happy to call him my friend."
The stadium series game came during a 9-11-2 run -- with Lack starting 19 games in 41 days -- that torpedoed the Canucks' postseason hopes last season.
That grueling experience was educational, if incredibly taxing. But with the Canucks in a free fall under fiery coach John Tortorella, it wasn't always fun. It was through this difficult period that Luongo reached out to lend a guiding hand.
"During some of those rough stretches, he sent me a text to encourage me to keep going and keep fighting. It's just a nice friend to have on your side," Lack said. "It was a very good learning experience for me. I feel like it's helped me a lot this year."
That demanding workload accelerated by the NHL break for the Sochi Olympics left Lack physically and mentally exhausted. So, following the firing of Tortorella and general manager Mike Gillis last summer, Lack took time off before rededicating himself to the 2014-15 season.
"He broke down a little bit down the stretch when they were playing him a lot. He wasn't feeling 100 percent," said Alex Auld, a longtime NHL goaltender who worked with Lack during the offseason. Auld is now working as a private goaltending trainer/consultant.
"Seeing the goalie he is now, he has come a long way. He's healthy but he has also improved technically."
Lack hoped his yeoman's effort last season would be rewarded with a starting nod in 2014-15. But that plan was altered when Vancouver signed Miller to a three-year contract on July 1. Once again, Lack would have to start over, biding his time and waiting for his opportunity to arise.
That chance emerged when Miller sprained his knee on Feb. 22. Lack has since gone 7-3-1 with a .928 save percentage, helping the Canucks make a run toward the postseason.
"It's like I told myself during my whole career, there's so much stuff going on that I can't focus on or put energy on," Lack said. "I just have to focus on myself and me playing good. The rest is going to work itself out."
As well as he has played in Miller's absence, Lack was already a Vancouver fan favorite long before his recent re-emergence. That is thanks in large part to an engaging online presence that has earned him the nickname "Edward Twitterhands" among certain teammates.
Using his signature toothy grin as a selfie calling card, Lack has been a constant presence on Twitter. He even offered fans on social media the opportunity to redesign his goalie pads. That's when Miller submitted his own entry, which featured a set of leg pads emblazoned with a photo of Lack's favorite food: tacos.
It was the high point for a bizarre taco meme that has followed the goaltender and his outsized personality for months. Don't worry. Lack doesn't exactly understand it, either.
"We always had taco nights on Friday [growing up]," Lack said. "I had an interview in the beginning of the season. They asked me about my favorite meal and it just spun over from there. It took on a life of its own."
The taco meme reached critical mass on March 19, when the Canucks encouraged fans via Twitter to throw tacos at Lack on the ice in an apparent nod to Ottawa Senators fans, who have taken to tossing hamburgers on the ice since the emergence of goaltender Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond.
Just the latest bizarre turn in a mostly fun, always-interesting season in Vancouver that has seen a perma-grinned, taco-munching, Twitter-loving netminder unexpectedly lead the Canucks' final playoff push.
"I think a lot of guys in the locker room respect his competitiveness, no matter how funny he tries to be off the ice," Higgins said. "He's been fantastic for us. You always like your goalies a little weird, I guess."
— Eddie Lack (@eddielack) January 29, 2015
MERRY XMAS!!! SANTA, I KNOW HIM!!! pic.twitter.com/qeMJywPYea
— Eddie Lack (@eddielack) December 25, 2014