There are a good number of people who have little but contempt for Roberto Luongo’s mental makeup. After a bad game, a mediocre game, or at random points in the playoffs, one is bound to run into comments about his ‘fragile’ mental state, his ‘easily shattered’ confidence and his simple inability to come through when the pressure is on.
Are those kinds of statements supported by the evidence?
My personal answer to the question above is ‘it depends.’
For starters, there is simply no doubt that Roberto Luongo has bad games at critical times. We might reference his performance in places during the Chicago series or the current Boston series or go back to the Chicago series of the last two seasons. That he has had some bad games during those runs is something that I think nobody would dispute.
Of course, what a paragraph like the one above leaves out is that many, many very good goaltenders have bad games during pressure situations. Let’s consider two examples, both recent French-Canadian goaltenders generally considered among the best all-time: Patrick Roy and Martin Brodeur.
Patrick Roy last played in the playoffs in 2002-03. In the first round against Minnesota, he allowed four goals in the opening game and finished with a save percentage 0.900 or lower in each of the final three contests, which allowed the Avalanche to blow a 3-1 series lead and lose to the Wild. The year before that, the Avalanche made it to the third round, and in Game Seven Roy allowed six goals on 16 shots as they were eliminated by Detroit. The series prior, he served up three stinkers to San Jose, allowing five goals on 22 shots in the opener, five goals on 39 shots in Game Three, and four goals on 26 shots in Game Five. In 1999-2000, Colorado lost to Dallas after Roy allowed 3+ goals in three of the series final four games, all while never facing even 30 shots. In 1998-99, Roy allowed 4+ goals in each of the final three games in a series loss to Dallas. In 1997-98, Roy and the Avalanche lost to a major underdog, the Edmonton Oilers, with Roy allowing four goals on 17 shots in the series’ deciding game. NHL game logs don’t go further back than that, but it’s safe to assume that Roy was a goal-allowing, series-choking loser occasionally had bad playoff games all the way back to his rookie days
All sorts of excuses have been made lately for the winning-est goaltender of all time, Martin Brodeur, when he struggles in a series. After all, he blew the Devils 2009-10 series against Philadelphia (1-4, 0.881 SV%, no really good games), allowed four goals in each of the final two games against Carolina the year before (blowing a 3-2 series lead), and allowed four goals in each of his final two games against the Rangers in 2007-08 (leading to elimination). Even before that, he struggled at times, however. In 2000-01, with the Devils in the Finals against Colorado, Brodeur allowed five goals in the first game, and after New Jersey had taken a 3-2 series lead allowed seven goals on just 40 shots over the final two games, both of which were losses. the year before he was great in the Finals, but nearly cost New Jersey their third-round series versus Philadelphia when he allowed 11 goals on just 72 shots over three straight games.
The point is not to denigrate the two guys above. The point is rather to illustrate that both goaltenders occasionally had lousy games and even lousy series, and that both came up flat in elimination games over the course of their illustrious careers. If Luongo had won a cup with his superb playoff performance in 2006-07, or played behind something other than a decent AHL team in Florida and Long Island, we might be inclined to grant him some leeway when he had a bad game, but he didn’t and so doesn’t get that sort of consideration.
The other point is that Luongo’s generally been excellent at rebounding from a pair of stinkers over the course of his career. I’ve pointed this out before, so I won’t rehash it at length, but suffice to say that as he can consistently come back from two bad losses with a brilliant performance, ‘mentally fragile’ is not the first term that would leap from my mouth.