The Vancouver Canucks, with their backs against the wall, rode the great play of their young goalie Thatcher Demko to beat the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 in Game 5 on Tuesday night. With that win, the Canucks avoided elimination from the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Game 6 is on Thursday. Can Vancouver win one more time?
In the words of Vegas Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer, “You can’t overreact. You got two good teams going at it, and we’ve got a chance to win this in six (games).” In truth, Canucks fans have to realize that, right now, this season, the Golden Knights are the better team and more experienced. But the Canucks are coming.
Somehow, the Canucks keep hanging in there. Vegas must remember last season when they had a 3-1 series lead against the San Jose Sharks in the first round. They couldn’t put them away, and another hot goalie, Martin Jones, hung in there to provide the Sharks with the series victory.
Will it happen again?
In Game 5, Thatcher Demko Was “Good” (DeBoer)
Demko learned that he might start Game 5 on Monday evening. However, as he noted after the game, “I found out a little bit later last night (Monday) and I gave Marky some time to see how he’s feeling.” Demko’s phrasing suggests that Markstrom would have played if he was able.
Demko admitted, “You never know when you’re going to go in and I just wanted to stay sharp through the whole process of training camp and getting into the bubble. I just wanted to be able to help out,” (from “Canucks 2, Knights 1: Demko delivers in relief for sensational NHL playoff debut,” The Province, 02/09/20).
However, Markstrom, who has carried a heavy load throughout the playoffs, simply couldn’t play in Game 5 and Demko stepped up. And step up he did, stopping all but one of the 43 shots the Golden Knights threw at him. He was on top of his game in his first-ever playoff start.
Demko had played in a mop-up role in Game 1 (8:26 in total) and stopped all five shots he faced. During the 2019-20 regular season, he played in 27 games with a goals-against-average of 3.06 and a .905 save percentage. With so little game experience, there were questions whether he was ready for the pressure of an elimination game. Yet, he played almost other-worldly and was a key reason the Canucks won the game to keep their season alive.
Demko gave up the game’s first goal on a nifty move by Shea Theodore in the second period, but the Canucks responded quickly when Brock Boeser scored 24 seconds later. Elias Pettersson scored the game-winner on a nice tip-in in the third period.
What Is Demko’s Immediate Future?
I have a feeling we’ve only begun to see the emergence of Demko. By any stretch of the imagination, he seems like an odd duck; at least he’s earned that reputation from his teammates. In the post-game interviews after Game 5, as he sat fielding questions with Boeser, someone asked about his bed-time routine.
Related: Vancouver Canucks All-Time Team
A smile broke out on both Demko and Boeser’s faces. Demko, who has a reputation of being a health nut and gets plenty of sleep and eats the right food, admitted to going to sleep at “10:05.” He then winked at Boeser and noted, “These guys stay up later.”
Whatever Demko’s routine, it worked and as Sportsnet analyst Kelly Hrudey regularly notes, teams should never apologize for having a good goalie. With his victory, the 24-year-old, who’s from San Diego, California, became the first California-born goalie to win a game in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As noted, Demko only got the start because the very busy Markstrom – who had faced an NHL-high 491 shots in 14 games during the postseason – was deemed “unfit to play.” His undisclosed injury is rumored to be a groin injury. There’s no official word on his ability to play on Thursday, but wise money suggest Demko will likely start again.
On Wednesday, Canucks head coach Travis Green was asked about his starting goalies and whether Markstrom would be available for Game 6. He didn’t bite. Instead, he noted that his team needs to play better in front of whoever is in net on Thursday night if the team has a chance to move on to Game 7.
If Markstrom is able to play, Green has a tough call. If Demko plays and wins, his call might be even tougher for Game 7.
Demko’s Attitude Toward Game 6?
Demko, who grew up in California (western United States) but starred at Boston College (on the far eastern side of the United States), was a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. When asked about the two upcoming games of the series, he wouldn’t project further than the recent past.
He simply noted after the game, “You don’t know what the circumstances are going to be, but it’s good to get a game under my belt and, if I do get back in, I’ll have a bit of a comfort level there. I got some work tonight, and I’ll do some video to clean things up and try to do it again — if I get the call.”
Canucks fans will hope he is both ready and other-worldly if and when he gets the call – which will probably be tonight.