Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko has his work cut out for him, that goes without saying. He did the job Tuesday, pulling his club to a 4-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in the first of what could be a very long, very difficult stretch.
The 24-year-old from San Diego now has the task of getting the Canucks into a comfortable position in the post-season, with starter Jacob Markstrom out three to four weeks with a knee injury.
Now, Vancouver did make a slight deal at the trade deadline to bring in Louis Domingue from New Jersey.
But this is Demko’s team for the near future and he knows it, which is why his vital performance on Tuesday is a tone-setter. He stopped 37 of 40 shots, his first win since January 27. That sets him up with a record of 11-6-2 over 23 appearances this season and he’s about to see a major uptick in workload.
“I want the guys to have confidence in me,” Demko said. “This being the first game of the stretch, it was an important game for me to come in and just kind of calm the group. If I don’t play well, maybe they get a little bit nervous for the next handful of games. It was good for me to kind of get in a rhythm. Obviously, there’s a lot more games that I’m going to be playing. I just want to keep getting better as we go.”
“Calming the group” is a critical element of what solid goaltending can do, especially with Vancouver no longer holding on to the division lead. The Vegas Golden Knights have 76 points, while the Canucks and Oilers are notched at 74. Vancouver has the most games left to play this season.
The Canucks haven’t seen the post-season since 2015 and they’re not exactly turning heads, but anything can happen going forward.
Tuesday’s game saw Vancouver produce some iffy hockey, which in turn led head coach Travis Green to burn a timeout in the first period to pull things together. The Canucks were chasing their tail and down 2-0 on Montreal goals by Shea Weber and Paul Byron.
Jordan Weal had the other Montreal goal, while Bo Horvat, Alex Edler, Jake Virtanen, and Tyler Toffoli scored for the Canucks. Toffoli had the winner at 1:35 of OT and he’s now fully a member of the team, amassing five points since arriving on February 17.
Look, if we’re being honest we know Demko looked shaky at times. He let in the first shot of the game and allowed the Weber blast when he saw it the whole way. Two goals on eight shots are not exactly uplifting, but he rebounded, found his posts, squared to the puck, got the dub.
“We pulled together as a group and chipped away,” said Demko. “We want to be dictating and playing with the lead, but not every game is going to go like that. And we have to find ways to win.”
Photo credit: NHL.com