Demko vs. Saros: This Canucks Predators series will be defined by the men in the crease

Photo credit:Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Lachlan Irvine
7 days ago
In the opening round of the 2007 playoffs, Vancouver Canucks fans were treated to some of the best goaltending a seven-game series has ever seen.
On one side, the Canucks’  Roberto Luongo put together one of the best postseason debuts in NHL history, which included 72 saves in his very first playoff game. At the other end, the Dallas Stars’ Marty Turco pitched three shutouts in a series loss.
At the time of that series, I was nine years old, and those seven games all but solidified how badly I wanted to be a goalie. This year’s opening round between the Canucks and the Nashville Predators has all the hallmarks to be a new generation’s defining goalie battle.
Thatcher Demko and Juuse Saros have been two of the NHL’s best goalies across the last half-decade. Both are 28 years old, routine Vezina vote-getters and more than essential in getting their respective clubs to this year’s postseason. One stands 6-foot-4 and wears almost exclusively white pads because their goalie coach insists on it. The other is 5-foot-11 and wears bright gold ones because why play goal if you’re not going to look cool doing it?
Demko and Saros are the undisputed x-factors coming into this series; their respective teams will go as deep in the playoffs as they can take them. But just like Luongo and Turco before them, these two goalies each have a chip on their shoulder that they need to exorcise.
For Demko, it’s proving to the hockey world that his iconic three games in the 2020 bubble playoffs weren’t beginner’s luck. For Saros, it’s stepping out of the playoff shadow cast by his former mentor and teammate, Pekka Rinne.
Demko’s incredible season needs no introduction here. With 35 wins in 50 starts, Demko is a near lock as a Vezina Trophy finalist, and his value to the Canucks was made more apparent when he missed a month of action due to a knee injury.

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By all accounts, Demko has already long proven that his “bubble run” was no flash in the pan and that he’s capable of not only backstopping an NHL team but also leading one. But Demko still tends to get overlooked by folks outside of Vancouver in favour of names like Connor Hellebuyck and Jake Oettinger – goalies who’ve put their team on their backs in deep playoff runs. Demko has simply never had that opportunity until now, having still been the backup to Jacob Markstrom in 2020 and playing on some less-than-competitive Canucks teams in the two years after.
If Demko is healthy and playing with confidence, he’s damn near unbeatable. His rebound control and puck tracking are among the league’s best and only seem to get better the more shots you throw at him. As long as the Canucks’ defence protects the net and keeps attackers from getting second chances or passes in close, Demko should be able to take care of everything else.
Juuse Saros had a down year by his own standards, but that’s a bar most goalies would have difficulty clearing. Saros started 64 games for the Preds in 2023-24 — the third straight season he’s led the league in that category — and posted a 35-24-5 record with a .906 save percentage, .013 lower than last year. But that doesn’t mean he’s been any less crucial for the Predators.

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What might surprise you is that Saros has started just ten playoff games in his career. The Preds have been bounced in the opening round in each of their last four appearances, but Saros only played the starting role in two of them after succeeding the now-retired Pekka Rinne in 2020.
The Predators’ most recent playoff appearance in 2021-22 came off the heels of a career year for Saros, but he suffered a season-ending foot injury in the final week before the playoffs — getting convincingly swept by the Colorado Avalanche without him.
Saros’ smaller frame requires him to challenge shooters a little farther out of his crease and be a much more acrobatic goalie than his taller counterparts. That style has made him one of the NHL’s most exciting goalies to watch, but it can also open him to more high goals off the rush if he isn’t square to the puck. If the Predators give Saros the time and space to see the shooter and prevent screens, Saros will be able to frustrate the Canucks by steering rebounds in the corner and pouncing on loose pucks in close.
No goaltender can win a playoff series all by themself. But as far as the Canucks and Predators are concerned in this series, finding out which goalie will step up and outplay the other could very well be the difference between a deep playoff run and an early exit.

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