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Photo Credit: @Canucks Twitter

Vancouver Canucks at Montreal Canadiens Postgame Recap: Thatcher Demko’s Quiet Revolution

The Warmup

Following an NHL Trade Deadline that was dramatic for all the wrong reasons, the Vancouver Canucks officially entered the stretch run on Tuesday evening against the Montreal Canadiens – though they did so without their most important individual.

Instead of announcing a big transaction on February 24, Jim Benning let it be known that Jacob Markstrom had torn his meniscus sometime in the previous 9-3 drubbing of the Boston Bruins. As such, Benning acquired Louis Domingue as a temporary fill-in – but everyone knew it would be the Thatcher Demko show moving forward, with the first episode occurring on the fabled ice of the Bell Centre.

On the whole, the visitors skated into the matchup on an incredible high – having just beaten the best team in the NHL by a touchdown. It would have taken a lot to take the wind out of the Canucks’ sails after a showing like that, but the loss of their starting goaltender and undisputed MVP was more than enough.

Aside from Markstrom’s departure, there were no other alterations to the lineup, as posted by Jeff Paterson on Twitter:

The lines also remained the same, and really, did anyone expect anything different after a six-goal victory?

With that, it was time to drop the puck on the last quarter of the 2019/20 season – and what promises to be a mad dash to the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs for Demko and the Canucks.

1st Period

Vancouver fans didn’t have to wait long on Tuesday evening to feel further consternation. Less than a minute into the game, Max Domi felled Quinn Hughes with a hard and blatant crosscheck to the kidneys that went unnoticed by the officials. Hughes took his time getting back on his feet, but remained in the game.

Undaunted, the Canucks proceeded to trade chances with the Canadiens for the next few shifts. At one point, JT Miller was poised to be sprung on a breakaway – but Loui Eriksson curiously chose to dump the puck into the zone for Miller to chase instead.

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The next shift, Jake Virtanen took a run at Domi and Antoine Roussel had words for him after the whistle – once again making it clear that the Canucks were done letting opponents get away with cheapshots on their young stars.

Moments later, Dale Weise took his first shift of the game. He didn’t do anything significant, but this author just thinks it’s neat that he’s still kicking around the league.

An Elias Pettersson/Miller odd-man rush made for the first genuine scoring chance of the period – and the Canucks’ first actual shot on goal – but Carey Price had no issues turning it aside.

Exactly six minutes into the frame, Domi attempted to pass through three Vancouver defenders to an onrushing Paul Byron – and, somehow, he made it through. Despite Hughes getting a stick on it, the puck still awkwardly rolled right through everyone and right onto the stick of Byron, who made no mistake snapping it past Thatcher Demko for the 1-0 lead.

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The backcheck of captain Bo Horvat came just a second too late.

And speaking of seconds, it only took the Canadiens another 83 of them to strike again. Shea Weber patiently took command of the puck at the point, then turned an attempted block by Miller into a screen and blasted the puck past Demko cleanly. With assists to Tomas Tatar and Philip Danault, the Habs now had a 2-0 lead.

And Travis Green wasn’t happy about it. In a rare move, the Canucks’ head coach called his timeout immediately following the goal, and did his best to rouse his charges with what sure looked like a fiery tirade.

The visitors seemed to take Green’s words to heart almost immediately. One shift later, Adam Gaudette batted a puck out of the air and off a post. His teammates kept the pressure on through a line change and generated several more opportunities for the Horvat line – including one that required a stellar Price pad-save – but no conversions as of yet.

The top unit then managed to take to the ice with the Canucks still maintaining offensive possession. After a couple more shots on net, Domi took it upon himself to shift momentum by rudely shoving Pettersson to the ice and clearing the puck – thus earning him the ire of the handful of Vancouver fans who didn’t already hate his guts after that crosscheck on Hughes.

With the Canucks now firmly in control of the pace, however, it was only a matter of time before the turning tides had an impact on the scoreboard.

Vancouver earned the first powerplay of the game with Weber off for slashing Tyler Motte – but the man advantage wouldn’t last for long. Just six seconds in, Miller found Horvat in the high slot for a one-time snapper that blew past Price’s glove-hand to cut the lead down to 2-1.

The goal marked a couple of milestones, too, with Miller and Hughes notching the 300th and 50th points of their respective careers. With his 42nd of the season, the assist also moved Hughes into a tie with Dale Tallon for the most all-time by a Canucks rookie. And that’s not quite all:

As the teams skated off after 20 minutes, all indications were that Green’s impromptu timeout had worked exactly as intended. The Canucks may not have tied it up quite yet, but they did manage to completely shift the momentum of a game that was quickly getting away from them – and they did it early enough to still give themselves a fighting chance.

Shots sat at 13 apiece after one.

Intermission Highlight

Believe it or not, after 10 straight hours of Deadline Day coverage yesterday, this author skipped the intermission.

2nd Period

The middle frame also got off to a slow start, but thankfully it was at least experienced by both teams this time around. In fact, it was so boring early on that Jeffy Petry felt to need to manufacture some exciting action:

The Canadiens were the first squad to wake up, testing Thatcher Demko with several chances in close just over five minutes into the period – but the Canucks’ interim starter looked sharp in his first serious action of the night.

A tough shift for Alex Edler ensued. First, he blindly cycled the puck up the boards in his own zone, turning it over. Then, covering up for his mistake, he reached out and grabbed hold of Jonathan Drouin – giving Montreal their first man advantage of the match. Fortunately, his teammates were able to bail him out with some timely and efficient penalty killing.

Past the halfway point of the period, neither side looked any closer to scoring, which was perfectly fine as far as the home team was concerned – but significantly more disconcerting for the trailing Canucks. And as the Canadiens started to pull ahead on the shot-counter once again, Demko continued to do his job at the other end of the ice – giving his teammates plenty of opportunity to even it up with his quiet and workmanlike netminding.

And with 4:24 remaining in the period, they finally cashed in.

Edler – he of the recent bad penalty – picked up a pass off the boards from Jake Virtanen down low and wasted little time in directing a wrister on net. Through a mass of bodies, the puck somehow found the twine behind Carey Price for a 2-2 tie – and Edler’s first goal in 30 games.

No secondary assist was awarded, though it looked like Adam Gaudette probably should have received one. (UPDATE: He got it!)

Rather than be boosted by their equalizer, the Canucks attempted a miniature version of their usual late-lead game plan. For the remaining minutes of the period, Vancouver seemed to largely focus on minimizing Montreal chances – and ensuring that the game stayed knotted at two after 40 minutes.

Mission accomplished.

Intermission Highlight

Dan Murphy and Iain MacInytre arbitrarily choosing to host their segment in front of 25 mini replicas of Montreal’s 25 Stanley Cups – just to rub it in.

3rd Period

Max Domi and Jordan Weal conspired to keep the pressure on Thatcher Demko early in the third. Though he turned away their initial chance, and a follow-up, Domi’s next pass bounced off Quinn Hughes and right to Weal in the slot – where he muscled a knuckler past Demko for the 3-2 lead less than a minute into the period.

And the Canucks found themselves right where they’d already been for much of the game – down by a goal.

And then things got ugly.

In a play eerily reminiscent of the one that left Josh Leivo with a broken knee, Christian Folin awkwardly shoved Adam Gaudette from behind into the boards, knees-first – though fortunately Gaudette was able to skate off under his own steam. After a short scrum, Folin went to the box for a generous two minutes, and the Canucks set to with their second powerplay of the game.

The first unit didn’t earn much in the way of revenge, so it was soon time for Gaudette’s own unit to take matters into their own hands.

Gaudette won a draw back to Tyler Myers, who cycled the puck over to Jake Virtanen at the other point. With lots of room, Virtanen drifted in to the circle before letting loose a hard wrist-shot that popped up and over Carey Price – and into the net for a 3-3 tie and a two-for-two record on the man advantage for the night.

No doubt Gaudette felt at least a little bit better about the whole incident after that.

And in the category of “Tweets You Never Thought You Would See:”

This time, the Canucks seemed a little more energized by evening it up, and those in attendance at the Bell Centre shifted to the edges of their seats for what promised to be a dynamic and frantic final ten minutes.

And it lived up to that promise almost immediately via a bizarre sequence in which JT Miller found himself alone in front of Price and still decided to pass the puck back against the grain to Elias Pettersson – only for Pettersson to whiff completely on a wide open cage.

It was one more miscue in what had been a tough night for Pettersson thus far – and, yes, it was more than enough for #Canucks Twitter to turn on the messiah:

No doubt wanting to take some heat off his young comrade, Jay Beagle decided to absolutely fan on the culmination of a tic-tac-toe play with Brandon Sutter and Antoine Roussel – and with a net even more wide open than Pettersson’s had been.

And no doubt wanting to repay Beagle’s favour, Pettersson came out the next shift and failed to get a shot away on yet another three-man-weave, though this one could at least be partially blamed on an undetected hook.

The score may have been tied with the regulation clock winding down, but it was still really not looking like the Canucks’ night tonight – with the possible exception of Thatcher Demko. With little fanfare, the Canadiens crossed over the 40-shot threshold with just a couple of minutes remaining, and Demko continued to rather unspectacularly hold the Canucks in there.

This wasn’t Jacob Markstrom’s usual game-saving bravado, but it was Demko’s own spin on getting the job done against the odds – as all Vancouver goalies must.

And with that, the Canucks had won a valuable point in the standings; it was time to shoot for one more.

Overtime Period

As he often does, Quinn Hughes took over the three-on-three play early on, electrifying the opposing crowd with sequence of self-generated chances that couldn’t quite make it past Carey Price.

Hughes and his linemates left the ice, replaced by the trio of Bo Horvat, Tyler Toffoli, and Alex Edler – and they quickly got to work.

Toffoli fired a shot on net, Edler picked it up and cycled it to Horvat – who took advantage of the open ice to skate all the way back to the blueline before dishing it off to Toffoli. The two then engaged in a classic give-and-go that left the tired Montreal defenders standing still – and Price’s net once again wide open.

This time, Toffoli made no mistake – picking up his third goal and fifth point in three games with the Canucks, and the 4-3 overtime win to boot.

The Wrap-Up

Other than a few short stints of sustained momentum, it felt as though the Canucks were chasing this one for the entire night – and yet they somehow managed to chase their way to two vital points.

This certainly wasn’t the best this team has played in recent memory, but there’s also plenty to be pleased with on top of the win itself.

Travis Green pulled off a rare coaching-related highlight reel moment with his first period timeout and tirade, which preceded the Canucks’ best minutes of play all game.

Captain Bo Horvat had a strong game and notched his 20th of the season.

Alex Edler bumped the slump, and Shotgun Jake did that thing that everyone enjoys when he does it.

The new guy, Tyler Toffoli, continued to impress.

Most importantly, Thatcher Demko proved to do exactly what Jacob Markstrom has been lauded for doing all season – earning points for his team on nights when they don’t necessarily deserve them.

There’s no doubt that the Canucks have developed a system in which they often have to rely heavily on their goaltender – and in Markstrom’s absence, it’s comforting to see such a strong testament to Demko’s reliability.

Fancy Stats At A Glance

Gameflow from Canucks at Montreal February 25, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Heatmap from Canucks at Montreal February 25, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

 

Top Performers

Thatcher Demko

Demko may not have made any Sportcentre-worthy saves, but he quietly picked up 37 stops and kept the Canucks in it throughout the handful of moments in which their wheels fell all the way off. So far, so good, for Vancouver’s interim starting goaltender.

Adam Gaudette

Gaudette picked up two assists – his 20th and 21st of the season – though both of them were secondary. More importantly, it was Gaudette’s being crunched from behind into the boards, and the Canucks’ subsequent powerplay marker, that turned the game around – probably not the way Gaudette wanted to inspire his teammates, but he’ll take it!

Jake Virtanen

Shotgun Jake stepped it up while the Canucks’ big guns were misfiring. Virtanen logged a goal and an assist in just over 12 minutes of ice-time – and though he spent just 18 seconds on the powerplay, he used those 18 seconds to take command of the zone and create his own opportunity, which he converted on.

Next Game

The Canucks will travel down the road to Ottawa for a matchup on Thursday, February 27. The start-time is 4:30PM PST and the broadcast will be carried on Sportsnet Pacific.