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Canadian Press
1/10/2007 4:10:27 PM


Roberto Luongo has become the engine driving the red-hot Vancouver Canucks, a singular motivation engulfing him.

The all-star goalie desperately wants to make the playoffs, something he's yet to achieve after six NHL seasons.

''That's all that matters for me right now,'' Luongo said Wednesday. ''I really don't care about numbers, save percentage, how many shots I have, that's not important to me. There's two things I look at this year, No. 1 is wins and No. 2 is what's our spot in the standings.''

Luongo's 24 wins are second in the NHL, the last seven coming consecutively as the Canucks have roared their way to first place in the ultra-competitive Northwest Division.

It's new territory for the 27-year-old Montreal native, who spent the last five seasons with the sad-sack Florida Panthers.

''This is definitely the first time I've found myself in this situation as far as winning and being in first place,'' Luongo said on a conference call. ''You know, it's great. My confidence level not only for myself but the team is very high right now and you can tell just by the way people are in the locker-room, it's fun to be around the locker room and with the guys.''

Truth be told, he wasn't nearly that happy last June 23 when the blockbuster deal with Florida was completed on the eve of the NHL entry draft. He had mixed feelings, happy to be going to a hockey-crazed market like Vancouver, but sad to leave Miami where he had started putting down roots.

His wife Gina is from South Florida, they've built a nice home there, and her family had grown to see Luongo as one of their own. The cross-country move was an emotional one, but Luongo was surprised to see that it hasn't been as hard as he thought it would be.

''I think that's been the easiest part to deal with, to be honest with you, since the beginning,'' said Luongo, who signed a US$27-million, four-year deal with the Canucks. ''Once I got here, right away I felt at home. We found a place and we got in and it's been great. Obviously I miss Florida because I got a lot of family back there, that's tough.

''But I think I'm really happy where I am right now and the situation that I'm in. Things couldn't be better.''

The other adjustment has been the hockey culture. They're hockey mad in Vancouver with the large media contingent there to feed the demand. Not quite what he was used to in South Florida.

''Obviously it's a big difference,'' said Luongo. ''Everywhere you go, that's all people talk about. You are recognized everywhere, so it's great. It's great to be playing in a market like that. The fact that we are winning makes it much more fun to be part of, and you know, you just want to keep things going.''

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