The Farmies: Zach Sawchenko steals the show to send the Abby Canucks to the second round of the AHL playoffs

Photo credit:X/@abbycanucks
Dave Hall
1 month ago
On a Sunday afternoon when the Vancouver Canucks took down the Nashville Predators in game four of the Stanley Cup playoffs, their AHL affiliate, the Abbotsford Canucks, were gearing up for a do-or-die match in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
After splitting the series’ initial two games, the Abbotsford Canucks faced the Colorado Eagles in their final game of a best-of-three series with their 2023-24 season on the line.
Something felt a little off, as both of Abbotsford’s starting netminders were in Nashville, donning the Canucks’ orca logo.
Yet, Zach Sawchenko proved that he was up to the task, capping off a career night to send his team to the second round. He’ll likely continue to man the cage, especially as news surrounding Thatcher Demko remains unclear.
This game was tightly contested, but one thing remained constant: ZACH SAWCHENKO.
Let’s check out it all went down.
Opening lineup
While most of the lineup remained intact from game two, an Aidan McDonough/Dmitri Zlodeev swap represented the lone change for the Canucks.
With both of Abbotsford’s starting goalies now suiting up for Vancouver (in Nashville), the team stuck with 26-year-old Zach Sawchenko, navigating his first professional playoff series.
And boy, has he passed the test.
Game #3
1st period
The Eagles came out swinging, directing four shots on goal in the initial three minutes, putting Zach Sawchenko on his toes out of the gate.
Just before the game approached the five-minute mark, veteran Matt Irwin committed a rookie mistake, hauling down Spencer Smallman to take the game’s first penalty.
  • PK1 — Chase Wouters, John Stevens, Nick Cicek and Cole McWard
  • PK 2 — Sheldon Dries, Christian Wolanin and Filip Johansson
On the penalty kill, Abbotsford did what they had done all season: shutting their opponents from establishing a proper setup.
The exception came in the final seconds, where Sawchenko was tested at the goal line but held strong, keeping the game scoreless despite being outshot by a 7-1 margin early on.
Minutes after their successful penalty kill, Jean Luc Foudy got his stick on the hands of Tristen Nielsen to send the Canucks to a power play of their own, where things haven’t been as productive.
  • PP1 — Aatu Räty, Linus Karlsson, Tristen Nielsen, Sheldon Dries and Filip Johansson
  • PP2 — Arhsdeep Bains, Max Sasson, Chase Wouters, Akito Hirose and Christian Wolanin
Call it predictable, but it’s been an effective play, as the first unit executed their usual strategy — Räty finds Karlsson from below the goal line before he either took the puck in or dished to the slot.
This time, he chose to dish, forcing Ivan Prosvetov to make his toughest save, thus far.
Despite not scoring during the power play, the Canucks generated a few scoring opportunities, a somewhat rare sight this season.
Later in the period, the Canucks were handed another power play opportunity but struggled to create chances, spending much of the time in their own zone.
Sheldon Dries compounded the issue by taking a penalty at the halfway mark of the power play.
However, during the ensuing 4-on-4 play, Max Sasson went to work.
1–0 Canucks: Abbotsford goal, Arshdeep Bains from Max Sasson and Nick Cicek
Handed the puck in his own zone, Sasson turned on the jets, weaving through the Colorado defence before finding Arshdeep Bains, who had been left all alone in the slot after being mesmerized by the speed of Sasson.
Bains, more renowned for his playmaking abilities, made no mistake with the finish.
*Insert “Sasson is an incredible skater” quote here.*
Moments later, Bains showed off said playmaking ability by setting up Chase Wouters in the slot, but Prosvetov denied Wouters but gave up a juicy rebound for John Stevens.
In scrambling fashion, Prosvetov managed to keep his right leg tracking the puck to keep things within one goal.
It was awkward, but it worked.
Despite being outplayed for much of the initial stretch, the Canucks closed the period strong, outshooting the Eagles 8-3 in the second half.
2nd period
Zach Sawchenko was immediately put to the test at the start of the middle frame.
Just seconds after the initial face-off, Eagles’ forward Chris Wagner took Cole McWard wide, slicing across the crease to challenge Sawchenko with a close-range shot.
As was the story all night, he was up to the task.
Although he was ultimately beaten, credit McWard for sticking with the play and hounding the puck carrier to set him off target.
Arshdeep Bains nearly extended the Canucks’ lead after capitalizing on a turnover at the blue line, sending him in alone on the netminder from a wide angle.
We’re still trying to figure out how that puck found its way to Bains from across the ice.
Sawchenko maintained his flawless performance, holding firm in the crease against another surge from the Colorado forwards.
Following a rebound from a point shot, the 26-year-old dropped down to thwart multiple whacks while sprawled out in the “snow angel” position.
Things went back and forth for a few minutes, with little noteworthy action, routine saves, and neutral zone play for much of the remainder of the period.
That was until the final two minutes, where Sawchenko was forced to make a pair of huge saves to close the period out with his team up by a goal.
First, he and the Abbotsford defence combined to keep the puck out.
This was immediately followed by a pair of saves, including a slide over to stymie the forward on the rebound.
Finally, a nice blocker save off of a heavy point shot to redirect the puck toward the corner.
Despite facing pressure for much of the latter part of the period, the Canucks were handed their first power play opportunity of the period.
However, they couldn’t convert during the first half of the man advantage, heading into the intermission with 42 seconds remaining on the power play.
They maintained their one-goal lead after 40 minutes of play.
3rd period
In the early stages of the man advantage, the Canucks failed to capitalize and to compound matters, they took an undisciplined penalty of their own as captain Chase Wouters was called for a high stick on an Eagles’ forward.
It was just after the ensuing penalty kill that Sawchenko stuck his steak in the ground as the night’s knight in shining armour.
This spectacular save was just one of ten stops made by Sawchenko during the first seven minutes of the period, solidifying his status as the automatic first star of the night.
For a closer look at this incredible save, check out the footage courtesy of the Abbotsford Canucks.
You may have noticed that we haven’t highlighted many offensive opportunities during this recap.
That’s because Sawchenko stole the show.
Despite posting 27 shots up to this point, there hadn’t been many high-danger chances generated.
With just minutes to go, and the Abby Canucks en route to a second-round appearance, Aatu Räty drove through Ivan Prosvetov with little regard for stopping.
What a time to take a dumb penalty.
This resulted in the Eagles heading to their fifth power play of the game, presenting a prime opportunity to tie the game late with their season on the line.
But this time, Sawchenko could only take them so far.
1-1 tie: Colorado goal, Sam Malinksi from Peter Holland and Brad Hunt
Off the ensuing man advantage, Sam Malinski broke the goose egg on their 41st shot just before the two-minute warning, evening the score.
From here, the Abbotsford Canucks’ 2023-24 season would be settled in overtime.
The Canucks seized the first opportunity of the extra period, courtesy of a two-on-one rush led by Linus Karlsson and Aatu Räty.
Räty narrowly missed redirecting the cross-ice feed into the net.
Shortly after, Max Sasson chased down the puck and nearly slipped a shot through Prosvetov’s pads.
Just before the 11-minute mark, Arshdeep Bains made a stellar play along the boards to keep the puck in the zone before popping his head up to find Tristen Nielsen.
2–1 Canucks: Abbotsford goal, Chase Wouters from Tristen Nielsen and Arshdeep Bains
With the puck on his stick for less than a second, Nielsen quickly directed the puck toward his captain, allowing Chase Wouters to deflect it past Prosvetov and clinch the overtime victory!!!
Final score
The Abbotsford Canucks defeat the Colorado Eagles 2-1 and advance to the second round of the playoffs.
CanucksArmy three stars
Today, we’re shaking things up by awarding all three stars to the team’s netminder, Zach Sawchenko. The 26-year-old reached a career AHL high with 47 saves and played a pivotal role in the victory from beginning to end.
With only six starts in the regular season, Sawchenko was thrust into the starting role for Abbotsford surprisingly, following emergency call-ups for both Arturs Silovs and Nikita Tolopilo.
Despite lacking prior AHL playoff experience, he has risen to the occasion admirably, making 28, 24, and 47 saves respectively in the playoffs so far.
You simply have to praise the depth of this Canucks organization right now.
Next on the docket
The Canucks are now set to face the Ontario Reign in a best-of-five series for round two of the AHL playoffs. The series opener is scheduled for Wednesday at 7:00 PM PST in Ontario.

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