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The starting goalie debate continues for Game 2, but it’s far from a controversy

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Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Stephan Roget
1 month ago
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The Vancouver Canucks are no strangers to crease-related controversies.
The Dan Cloutier years. Roberto Luongo versus Cory Schneider. Roberto Luongo versus Eddie Lack. Eddie Lack versus Ryan Miller. And then, most recently, Jacob Markstrom versus Thatcher Demko, a contest that Demko won cleanly in 2020, the year of Bubble Demko.
Bubble or no, Demko has held on to the Canucks’ starters reins ever since. Until, that is, an injury in Game 1 of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs took him out of the lineup for an indeterminate amount of time.
You’re reading CanucksArmy, so we’ve got to believe that you know what happened next. Backup Casey DeSmith, naturally, took the start in Game 2, but struggled in defeat. He was given a shot at redemption in Game 3, and achieved it, only to wind up injured himself.
That led to young third-stringer Arturs Silovs getting the call for Game 4. And a good thing he did. Silovs was nothing short of stellar for the remainder of Round One, allowing a cumulative five goals against over the next three games, culminating in a Game 6 shutout victory to clinch the series.
Even with DeSmith reportedly returned to health, there was little doubt about who would start in Game 1 of Round Two against the Edmonton Oilers. The net, at this point, was Silovs’ to lose.
But despite the Canucks skating away with one of the greatest comeback wins in franchise history (for the second time this playoff run), the circumstances of Game 1 can’t help but to reignite the starting goalie debate.
But note that we’re choosing our words carefully here with ‘debate,’ because what this isn’t is another classic Vancouver goalie controversy.
A controversy implies some sort of bad choice or potential negative outcome. From where we’re sitting, the Canucks just have a couple of good choices to choose from. A selection of positive outcomes.
It is true that Game 1 was easily Silovs’ worst performance of the playoffs, if not the year outright.
Little blame could be handed his way for the first goal against, which came at the hands of the hottest power play in hockey.
But the second goal, which threatened to open the floodgates, came on a fairly innocuous shot from the point through minimal traffic. It was, by definition, a softie at an inopportune time.
After Dakota Joshua cut the deficit in half, the Oilers’ third goal came as an absolute momentum killer, especially considering it also came from a distance. In this instance, an unfortunate deflection off Ian Cole’s leg was as much to blame as anything, but this was a heatless shot all the same and it still found the back of the net.
Then came what really felt like it should have been a backbreaker. The broadcasting team tried to lay some blame on an errant Tyler Myers stick on this one, but that does little to change the fact that the puck snuck underneath a left pad of Silovs that rightfully should have been glued to the ice.
This was his weakest goal against of the game. It was the fourth goal against of the night, tied for the highest amount Silovs has given up in the NHL this year.
And it came at the worst possible time, putting the Oilers up 4-1 past the midway point of the game and giving them what appeared to be a stranglehold.
Again, you’re reading CanucksArmy, so you know what happened from there. Elias Lindholm got a lucky bounce to cut the lead in half again. JT Miller tipped it past Stuart Skinner about halfway through the third to make it 4-3. Then Nikita Zadorov tied it up and Conor Garland won it just 39 seconds thereafter.
Silovs, meanwhile, brought the win home, albeit under a minimal workload. The Oilers only managed four shots in the third period as they sat back and attempted to defend a dwindling lead…but then, Silovs did turn away all four of them.
More importantly, he looked as unflappable as ever. After the game, Silovs spoke to reporters calmly and plainly about effectively calming himself down and trusting in his teammates to win the game, which is exactly what happened.
Multiple soft goals against, yes. But getting the job done all the same.
Which does leave head coach Rick Tocchet and Co. with a tough decision heading into Friday’s Game 2.
All indications are that DeSmith is good to go. He’s been backing up since Game 5 of the Nashville series, at which point he was reportedly almost at 100%. A week later, we’ve got to imagine there’s no ‘almost’ about it anymore.
It’s important to remember, too, that DeSmith never really lost the crease. He played poorly in Game 2 against Nashville, sure, but not poorly enough to have Silovs come in for Game 3. And then DeSmith’s Game 3 performance was phenomenal, a tight 2-1 that seemed to secure his job as the fill-in starter – right up until he injured himself in the same game.
With DeSmith still technically coming off that showing, the temptation to put him in for Game 2 against Edmonton has to be strong. This is the job he was acquired for, after all, and there should be little doubt anymore that he is a goaltender capable of giving the Canucks a win. That’s especially true considering DeSmith’s memorable 3-1, 32-save victory over the Oilers late in the regular season, perhaps his best outing of the year.
It’s also early enough in the series that putting DeSmith in net runs very little risk. It’s Game 2, and the Canucks are up 1-0. Even if a rusty DeSmith puts forth a stinker, at worst, the series is back at evens and down to a best-of-five. That’s plenty of time for Silovs to come back in, if necessary, and pick up where he left off.
On the other hand, where Silovs left off is still, probably, on a roll. He got on a serious roll against Nashville, getting seemingly better with each game, and though he looked suddenly human on some of the goals against on Wednesday, he also made some key saves.
And, again, he won the game. A playoff game. Taking a winning goaltender out of the lineup is never an easy decision.
Plus, at just 23 years old, Silovs remains the option with by far the most upward potential. It’s possible that this is less Silovs “going on a run,” and more him ascending to a quality of goaltending he might just maintain from here on out. Which, then, is all the more reason to want to keep him in there and see how far he can take it.
But, like we said in the headline, there’s really no controversy here. DeSmith is a fine option for Game 2. Sticking with Silovs is perfectly reasonable, too. And then whatever happens in Game 2, the same options remain on the table for Game 3. If the Canucks go with DeSmith and lose, Silovs can come back in. If they stick with Silovs and he continues to let in a few softies, then there’s still plenty of time for DeSmith to take over and see what he can do.
A debate, sure. A tough decision to be made, absolutely. But a goaltending controversy? No way. There’s no reason for anyone to get upset with whichever decision is made regarding Game 2. Either choice is perfectly reasonable. From where we’re sitting, it’s basically a coin-flip.
We’ll end by saying this: following that Game 6 shutout, the net was invariably Silovs’ to lose. Even if Demko had miraculously returned to health in time for the Oilers series, there was no way Silovs was coming out of that crease.
Wednesday’s Game 1 probably changed that equation. Enough that we’re now talking about the possibility of DeSmith taking over, and definitely enough that if Demko were to return mid-series – as there have been whispers of – that he’ll take over immediately.
But even then, that would just be an instance of a star goaltender returning to health and taking his rightful place in the lineup. Still, no controversy.
What it is, is a bevy of goaltending options that can each win games for the Canucks against the Oilers. If that’s a problem at all, it’s a great one to have.
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