Photo Credit: @Canucks Twitter

Vancouver Canucks vs New York Islanders Postgame Recap: Boeser Returns, Demko Arrives

The Warmup

There was never any doubt that tonight’s matchup with the New York Islanders was going to be an important one for the Vancouver Canucks. Mired in an awful stretch of five losses in six games, the Canucks’ playoff aspirations were becoming increasingly dependent on each-and-every remaining game – and on Tuesday evening, the team got Brock Boeser back to bolster their attempts at a bounceback.

But if there’s one thing that could be considered even more important that postseason dreams and superstar returns, it was the 30th annual of the Canucks For Kids Fund Telethon.

More years ago than this author would care to admit, a wise person sat them down and explained to them the importance of giving time and resources to those who need it more than us – and they used the CFKF Telethon as a perfect illustration of that concept. (Thanks, Mom!) It was a lesson that stuck, and it’s a still a night that stands out on the calendar every season.

It’s an event that proves just how important hockey is to the community of Vancouver – and how unimportant the actual playing of the game is in the grand scheme of it all.

If you’re able to, please give. The Telethon runs until midnight, and the CFKF is always taking donations.

With all that being said, there was also ample reason to be excited about the action about to take place on the ice, so be sure to check out our Postgame Recap below once you’re done digging into those pockets!

As always, the lineup notes were provided on Twitter by Jeff Paterson, where the only change for the Canucks was a crowd-pleasing swap of Loui Eriksson for Boeser:

Thatcher Demko got the start against the veteran Semyon Varlamov, and with it was Brock to business for the home team.

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1st Period

Travis Green chose to start his impromptu fourth line of Brandon Sutter, Tyler Motte, and Jake Virtanen, and the gambit nearly worked – with Motte just about making the most of an odd bounce off the endboards less than a minute in.

A shift later, however, it would be the Islanders who drew first blood. Andrew Ladd scored his first goal since October of 2018 after he was left alone in front to deflect a point-shot past Thatcher Demko for the 1-0 lead. Josh Bailey and Nick Leddy picked up the assists.

Antoine Roussel tried to turn the momentum by challenging Cal Clutterbuck off the next faceoff, but the hard-hitting New York veteran refused the invitation – fortunately, as it turns out, for the Canucks. Moments later, Roussel’s line took the puck down the ice and he went straight to the front of the net – providing a distraction while an Alex Edler shot tipped off Adam Gaudette and past Semyon Varlamov to tie the game at 1-1 just 21 seconds after the Islanders’ goal.

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Edler picked up the 400th assist of his career on the play, and Troy Stecher notched the secondary helper – his sixth point in the last nine games.

And they weren’t done just yet.

A JT Miller faceoff win in the defensive zone turned into a four-on-two rush, headed by Quinn Hughes. After crossing into the Islanders’ end, Hughes dished it off to Elias Pettersson, who made a brilliant cross-ice saucer through traffic to the waiting Tyler Toffoli, who snapped the puck past Varlamov. Just 44 seconds after tying it up, the Canucks now had a 2-1 lead.

The goal was Toffoli’s sixth in just 10 games with the Canucks.

Vancouver, looking determined not to be defeated by an early goal against, earned a few more solid scoring opportunities before the game even reached its first TV timeout.

Several minutes thereafter, the visitors nearly evened it up after a puck bounced off the stanchion and to Anders Lee in the slot, but a combination of Stecher and Demko were able to stymy his backhanded attempt at finishing it.

The Islanders would receive another opportunity just past the midway mark when Jake Virtanen broke his stick – and then kept the upper half of it in his hand as he dove to break up a play going the other way. With Virtanen in the box for refusing to litter, New York headed to the game’s first man advantage.

For the first minute of the minor, the Vancouver PKers looked strong – but then within a dozen seconds Motte went to the dressing room with an injury and JT Miller picked up a slashing penalty to put the Canucks down by two.

And then it was time for Thatcher Demko to take over.

Before Virtanen exited the box, the Islanders launched four good shots from in close on Demko – and he stopped them all, including one sprawling kick-save that had the Rogers Arena faithful on their feet.

A couple of smart glove-hands later, and that was all she wrote for a 5-on-3 powerplay that produced six shots – a full half of the Islanders’ shots to that point in the game – and zero goals.

The next shift for the top line was a dominant one that produced nearly as many shots as the Isle’s powerplay had. Brock Boeser and the second unit were able to tag in while possession was maintained in the offensive zone – and though they did not convert on any of those chances, Bo Horvat did draw a crosschecking penalty on Ladd to send the Canucks to their first man advantage of the night.

The top powerplay unit took a while to get set-up, but eventually did, and so they were left on for the majority of the two minutes – though they didn’t produce much in the way of genuine chances. The fourth line came out to finish the last seven seconds of the man advantage, but that didn’t prove to be a winning strategy.

After Ladd left the bin, the Islanders’ own top line hit the ice and pushed the Canucks’ fourth line into its own end. Mathew Barzal fanned on a pass but it found Jordan Eberle alone in the slot anyway, and he made no mistake in shifting to the backhand and firing it past Demko – tying the game at 2-2 with just 59 seconds remaining in the period.

No Canuck attempted to get in the way of Eberle’s path to the net.

That’s how it stayed as the teams skated off after 20 minutes.

Intermission Highlight

Tonight, it’s all about the Telethon, and rightfully so.

2nd Period

The Canucks’ middle frame opened up about as poorly as it could have, with JT Miller going down awkwardly after catching a rut and heading to the bench in obvious discomfort – bad news for the home team and its leading scorer.

Fortunately, Miller would stay on the bench – which meant he was there to watch the Canucks’ go-ahead goal moments later.

Alex Edler pinched along the boards in the Islanders’ end and fired a casual wrister toward the goal – and into the path of a prowling Zack MacEwen, who deftly tipped it past Semyon Varlamov for his third goal in three games and the 3-2 lead.

The goal came just 2:14 into the period, and the new official favorite player of the CanucksArmy staff remained red-hot.

The game slowed down for the middle section of the middle frame, with the Canucks doing an effective job of restricting New York chances without slipping directly into shutdown mode. A handful of opportunities still slipped through, of course, but Thatcher Demko looked strong in turning them away.

Brock Boeser then had the best look of his comeback game thus far on a wraparound attempt, but just missed tucking it past Varlamov.

Demko’s best save of the game, and perhaps the season, came just ahead of the midway mark, exploding from one post to the other in time to follow a cross-ice pass and snatch a Mathew Barzal snapshot out of the air – preserving his team’s lead and dazzling all those in attendance.

It was one more highlight reel stop in what was quickly becoming a downright Jacob Markstrom-esque performance.

Scant seconds after that, Troy Stecher wired one off the crossbar, very nearly turning the momentum from Demko’s save into a two-goal lead, and the pace of the game began to pick up again as the teams started to trade chances.

The physical play also began to increase at that point, with one shift between the Isle’s fourth line and the Antoine Roussel-Adam Gaudette-Zack MacEwen unit leaving both sides battered and bruised.

Following the final commercial break of the period, the Canucks’ top line again hit the ice and again produced several high-danger situations for the Islanders, including two rock solid chances for Elias Pettersson in close that Varlamov smartly absorbed – and his timely netminding led to New York’s luck turning at the other end of the ice.

In a bizarre play, Brock Nelson knocked a pass down with his hand in the neutral zone that was then untouched by Oscar Fantenberg or any of Nelson’s teammates – allowing Nelson to jump around the Canuck defender, pick up his own hand-pass, and skate in alone on Demko. He finished the odd-looking sequence with a cheeky deke that beat Demko on the glove-side for a 3-3 tie with exactly 3:00 remaining.

But the symmetrical set of numbers wouldn’t last for long.

Caught up in a netfront battle, Mathew Barzal crosschecked Stecher in the mouth and granted the Canucks’ their second man advantage of the game – and the league’s fourth-best powerplay looked determined to make the most of this one.

Bo Horvat won a draw that ended up back at the point on Quinn Hughes’ stick. He and JT Miller stretched out the defense by swinging the puck back and forth between them. Miller skated it deep and put it on Tyler Toffoli’s stick at the net-side – who then immediately zipped the puck to Horvat in the slot. The Canucks’ captain didn’t get everything on the resultant one-timer, but he got enough to beat Varlamov – and to give the Canucks a 4-3 lead just 51 seconds after they’d lost their previous one.

The Canucks nearly skated off after 40 minutes with a two-goal lead after Pettersson came close to tapping in a Tyler Myers rebound – but he didn’t, so they didn’t. The shots, however, read 29-28 in favour of the visitors at the break, which was a lot closer than it had been for the majority of the game.

Intermission Highlight

Again, it’s all about the Telethon tonight.

But that Tyler Motte segment on his journey to mental health – and especially his comments on wanting to tell his story so others don’t feel alone on the same journey – was something else.

Is it too early to start the campaign for Tyler Motte as the Unsung Hero of the 2019/20 season?

3rd Period

Normally, having one’s favourite team enter the third period with a lead would be cause for confidence – but Vancouver fans could be forgiven if they moved closer to the edge of their seats as the Canucks and Islanders returned for the final frame.

Almost on cue, the home team came out with a lackadaisical effort in the first few minutes and gave up a handful of shots against – but no meaningful chances – that Thatcher Demko had absolutely no issue with.

As if the start hadn’t let the Isles back into the game enough, Adam Gaudette took a slashing penalty on his first shift of the period and sent them to their third powerplay of the night. And once again it was Demko who kept the Canucks in it.

The Islanders did not generate the sort of chances that would elicit another highlight reel save out of Demko, but they did direct another half-dozen pucks at the net and Demko turned them all aside as his teammates struggled to gain possession.

And it was all for naught, as the moment the penalty expired Brock Nelson was left wide open at the side of the net to bat in a puck that a similarly-unattended Anthony Beauvillier had attempted to deflect past Demko – tying the game at 4-4.

It was a play that Demko never had a chance on – which is more than could be said for the Canucks’ penalty killers and their chances to clear the puck before disaster struck. It was the third goal that the Oscar Fantenberg/Tyler Myers combo had been on the ice for.

Nevertheless, the Canucks returned to putting on the offensive pressure – and the search for their third lead of the game.

The hits kept coming, with Chris Tanev headed to the dressing room with an apparent injury just before the halfway mark. Then, in a game that had been mostly free of emotion to that point, Brock Nelson touched off a brief brouhaha by shoving Elias Pettersson into the back of the net after a whistle – drawing a reaction from Tyler Toffoli and then everyone else, though cooler heads would prevail.

During the ensuing TV timeout, Tanev returned to the bench – only to head back down the tunnel shortly thereafter, done for the night. The injury appeared to be the result of a fairly innocuous hit from Anders Lee along the boards.

It’s not often that the central storyline in a 4-4 game involves the strong play of a goaltender, but that was absolutely the case when it came to Thatcher Demko tonight. The Islanders crossed the 40-shot mark less than halfway through the third period, and they didn’t look back – but Demko continued to stand tall as the puck spent more and more time at his end of the ice.

A sustained shift of pressure from the fourth line, brought on by a manic rush from Brandon Sutter, sparked a multi-minute turn in momentum that culminated with the top line taking the ice and JT Miller ringing one off the iron – only to give way to the fourth line again, and for Jake Virtanen to blast another one off the crossbar.

After another handful of chances on either side, the final buzzer sounded, the Canucks earned at least one point, and three-on-three overtime was set to begin – with the shot-counter reading 45-33 in favour of the visitors at the end of regulation.

Overtime Period

Bo Horvat had a good chance early in overtime to end it off the rush, but his shot sailed wide, and the Islanders took over for more than a minute of patient possession on the outside – culminating in a Mathew Barzal opportunity that Thatcher Demko absorbed into his equipment.

The combo of JT Miller and Tyler Toffoli generated several chances on their shift, but then gave up an Isles rush the other way that Quinn Hughes ended with a timely block.

Another stop by Demko, and it was a career high of 45 saves – though it was the netminder at the other end of the ice who would steal the overtime show. Semyon Varlamov came across to deny Hughes, the recipient of a Horvat saucer-pass on a two-on-one.

Hughes also rocketed one off the crossbar just as time expired, sending the game to a shootout.

The Shootout

Elias Pettersson shot first for the Canucks, missing wide on the blocker side after a slick sequence of stickhandling.

Jordan Eberle followed up for the Islanders and attempted to go five-hole, but Thatcher Demko was able to slam the door shut.

JT Miller went next, going wide on his off-wing before cutting in and firing it below Semyon Varlamov’s glove – putting the Canucks ahead in the shootout.

Mathew Barzal did his best to tie it up on a patient and rangy deke, but Demko got the knob of his stick on it and sent the puck aside.

That set up the returning Brock Boeser to shoot for the win. He skated in, poised for a dramatic finish – only to have a fan throw a puck onto the ice, resulting in play being blown down. The stage was reset, but by now Varlamov was more than ready to eat up Boeser’s attempt at a step-in wrister.

That left Andrew Ladd with the game on his stick – and Thatcher Demko with an opportunity to end his stellar performance with one last save. Ultimately, Ladd robbed him of that chance by firing it wide – but the result was same and the Canucks skated away with a 5-4 victory, and with Demko deserving the bulk of the credit.

The Wrap-Up

From a purely objective perspective, this was a great game – entertaining, full of lead-changes and highlight reel plays, and competitive right down to the end.

And as a Vancouver fan, there’s plenty to like about it, too; including two more vital points in the Western Conference playoff race and perhaps reason to finally start believing in Thatcher Demko.

But this game should also give those with a critical eye ample reason for concern. The Canucks’ coverage in the defensive zone was abysmal, with the Islanders consistently being given far too much room to manoeuvre. The pairing of Oscar Fantenberg and Tyler Myers got obliterated, with three goals against at even-strength. To make matters worse, Chris Tanev left with an apparent injury.

In the end, some timely scoring and even more timely goaltending was enough to pull out the win – but that’s not always going to be enough if those defensive woes can’t be cleaned up pronto.

Fancy Stats At A Glance

Gameflow from Canucks vs New York Islanders March 10, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)


Heatmap from Canucks at New York Islanders March 10, 2020 (courtesy of naturalstattrick.com)

Top Performers

Thatcher Demko

Demko might have let four past him, but it could have been a lot more. His 45 saves through regulation and overtime is a career high, and several of those stops were of the sort that Jacob Markstrom would be proud to make. This was the first time that Demko truly played like a starting goalie since Markstrom’s injury – and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

Tyler Toffoli

Toffoli was one of two Canucks, along with Alex Edler, to put up a multipoint effort – notching a goal and an assist. He earned further adulation for going after Brock Nelson in defense of Elias Pettersson. Toffoli continues to look dangerous most times he’s on the ice.

JT Miller

Miller for MVP, anyone? Night-in and night-out, Miller drives play for the Canucks in every way imaginable. He may have only picked up one assist tonight, but he could have easily had a bushel of points. Miller also picked up five hits, three takeaways, and an even 23 minutes of ice-time – including 1:27 on the penalty kill.

Next Game

The Canucks hit the road for a brief back-to-back trip. First up, it’s off to Arizona for a game against the Coyotes on Thursday, March 12 with a 7:00PM PST start. The next night, they’re in Colorado to face the Avalanche on Friday, March 13 with a 6:00PM PST start. Sportsnet Pacific will carry both broadcasts.