The Stanchies: Thatcher Demko stops 39 of 40 in Pacific Division-clinching victory over the Calgary Flames

Photo credit:© Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
Cody Severtson
10 days ago
Rick Tocchet was all jokes post-game after his club won their first Pacific Division title in franchise history just 1.5 seasons into his tenure as head coach.
“I thought we played great—that was the plan: let them get a lot of work tonight,” said Tocchet with the straightest, deadpan delivery imaginable.
“I was joking!” Tocchet added before cracking a cheerful smile. “Like, nobodies laughing at that one?! Come on! I thought that was pretty funny!”
Boots on the ground reporter David Quadrelli asked Tocchet about the club’s ability to lock the game down in the third period. “I’m just happy we won the Pacific Division. The guys did a helluva job all year. Let’s face it, nobody really picked us to win the Division, so you’ve got to give the players a lot of credit,” said Tocchet, acknowledging that despite the rough conclusion to their 4-1 victory over Calgary, he remained proud and thrilled with his team’s performance this season nonetheless. “The game wasn’t a Picasso, obviously, but you’ve got to take the positives; we won the Pacific, and I’m happy for the guys. It’s a big honour, and the guys should enjoy it.”
Indeed, while it wasn’t a Picasso, the Canucks concluded their home schedule with their 50th victory, securing home ice for playoffs and a potential first-round matchup against the Nashville Predators or Vegas Golden Knights.
Frankly, after last season, I’m stunned to be the guy on Stanchies duty writing about them securing a Division title.
I thought I jinxed the team when I said that things might have finally started to go the other way following their 4-3 defeat of the Edmonton Oilers while getting outshot 40 to 16.
Oh, how sweet it is to have that unhealthy optimism finally work out in my favour!
Let’s get into this sweet but messy, historic victory for the home team!
Best available lineup
Best start
Okay, “best” is a bit of a stretch.
The first period was sloooooooooooooooooooooow to start. A litany of offsides and deflections out of play led to very little flow to Thatcher Demko’s return to action. The awkward start didn’t completely impede the Canucks’ ability to control play. However, the game did feel and look like a team that had punched its ticket, playing at 70% versus a team featuring a host of AHL’ers auditioning for an NHL role for next season.
It was messy and kind of boring for the most part (until it wasn’t).
Elias Lindholm started things with a heater against his former team off a short pass from Brock Boeser down the left wall.
Later, fellow ex-Flame Nikita Zadorov hammered Markstrom with a point shot after a spirited exchange of crosscheck between Teddy Blueger and Brayden Pachal.
Lindholm would have the club’s best chance of the early goings, whiffing on a one-timer off a fantastic centring feed from Conor Garland.
Five minutes into the opening frame, the broadcast had enough whistles and stoppages to roll out three video packages highlighting Lindholm’s goals against and with Vancouver, his faceoff work, and the whiffed one-timer.
Nils Höglander sparked some life in the crowd with a great read inside the offensive zone. After picking off an exit pass along the left wall, Höglander drove down the left wing, freezing the Flames’ defenceman before zipping a pass to Ilya Mikheyev for several backhand attempts on Markstrom at point-blank range.
Midway through the first, Andrei Kuzmenko embarked on a speedy end-to-end rush out of the Calgary d-zone that had dozens of Flames fans queued up to windmill dunk on Canucks’ fans over their team giving up the affable Kuzy for the struggling Elias Lindholm.
Despite the flashy zone entry, Kuzmenko wasn’t quite fast enough to break past Quinn Hughes or Filip Hronek to catch up to the puck, something Canucks fans were plenty accustomed to this season.
Lindholm would spark the game’s opening goal sequence, which was something neither Canucks nor Flames fans were accustomed to this season.
On the ensuing d-zone faceoff, Nazem Kadri drew an elbowing penalty against Dakota Joshua.
The head flip was a bit rich, given Kadri’s history of elbows against the Canucks.
Alas, the sell job gave Calgary a power play opportunity. Fortunately, the Flames power play couldn’t do a g** d*** thing about the 6’8″ shorthanded goalscoring phenom that is Tyler Myers.
Not long after Kuzmenko clapped iron, Teddy Blueger broke the puck out of the d-zone and found Myers with a cross-ice feed deep behind Calgary’s last man back, Daniil Miromanov.
1-0 Canucks: Vancouver Goal, Tyler Myers from Teddy Blueger
The alternate angle really shows how much time and space Myers had down the right wing to pick his spot—a brilliant pass from Blueger under pressure to boot!
Courtesy of John Shorthouse on the broadcast, the goal was Myers’ second shorty of the season, placing him third all-time in Canucks history for shorthanded goals by a defenceman.
Best Greatest Hits
Less than two minutes after Myers’ goal, Mikheyev, Pettersson, and Höglander stretched the ice for a fantastic tic-tac-toe goal.
The sequence was reminiscent of the peak Sedinery era, such that if you listen hard enough, you can hear Sweet Georgia Brown playing through this GIF.
2-0 Canucks: Vancouver Goal, Nils Höglander from Elias Pettersson and Ilya Mikheyev
Shortly after his goal, Höglander showed what a pint-sized force of nature he can be when he chased down a loose puck into the offensive zone before setting up Nikita Zadorov for a one-timer on Markstrom. It was an incredible sequence from the Swedish fire hydrant. After strongarming Dryden Hunt away from the puck, Höglander wheeled out to the wall, drawing in four skaters before hitting Zadorov with a cross-ice feed. Höglander’s solo effort created an absurd amount of open space for Zadorov to uncork his shot.
The period then finished with Vancouver up 2-zip while having outshot their Pacific Division rivals 12 to 9.
For the goalie nerds only interested in this game to see how Demko did in his return, he wasn’t tested much in the first! The Flames’ most dangerous shot of the period came in the final seconds, with Yegor Sharangovich cranking a 96 mph slapshot off Demko’s left pad.
Best Pacific Division Champs
Two minutes into the opening frame, Dakota Joshua scored on the Canucks’ first shot of the period for his 18th of the season after Conor Garland sprang him out of the d-zone.
3-0 Canucks: Vancouver Goal, Dakota Joshua from Conor Garland and Tyler Myers
Joshua’s goal was the second time that a Canuck had gone blocker side, post and in on Markstrom.
Best Tracking
Look, I don’t know anything about goaltending, so I went to Twitter to ask the guild about Demko’s biggest save of the game.
Sportsnet650’s goalie, Greg Balloch, told me that Demko executed “a wonderful move off the post to rotate and push across mostly flat along the goal line—technique coupled with desperation.”
CanucksArmy’s own goalie nerd, Lachlan Irvine, said, “Watch [Demko] track that rebound right onto the stick blade. He knows that puck’s not going in before the shot comes.”
I’m going to assume they’re both right because, down 3-zip, Martin Pospisil had the Flames’ best chance at starting a comeback, only for Demko to make a heroic save in his NHL return to maintain his shutout status.
Best control
Midway through the second, Pospisil would draw a high-sticking minor against Ian Cole while taking a tripping penalty for himself, sending the game to two minutes of 4-on-4.
As they’d done through most of the second period, the Canucks’ controlled possession inside the Flames’ zone with ease. The Canucks generated shots on Markstrom from Miller and Garland.
Garland’s chance was especially spiffy. Parked at the front of the net, Garland dropped his right knee for a redirect attempt on a centring pass from Hughes as he waded down the left wing.
Worst news for @BoestMode
Though they finished the period down in shots (15-10), the run of chances was thoroughly in Vancouver’s favour throughout the second period.
The Canucks’ suffocating pressure got to the Flames’ inexperienced squad, resulting in a wild centre-ice scrum outside the two team’s benches.
The chippy play began after J.T. Miller gave Pospisil some chops and an earful following an attempted hit from behind from the young rookie.
On the next shift, Jonathan Huberdeau threw a high hit on Garland below the Canucks’ goal line, drawing a reaction out of Zadorov.
Tensions boiled over with four minutes left in the period when Höglander got his stick up high into the chest of Pachal, sparking a full 5-on-5 scrum between the two teams.
5’8″ Conor Garland ragdolling the 6’8″ Adam Klapka off the pile earned himself the second CON-OR GAR-LAND chant of the month, and rightly so.
A lengthy video review concluded with Calgary earning a two-minute 5-on-4 power play, which they promptly wasted.
Best chirp
It’s really important that I remind Canucks fans that Filip Hronek has spoken on camera just twice this season.
Hronek’s first appearance on camera was for an interview with the Canucks’ social media department to talk about his dog.
The Second? This brief, between-whistles clip, where Hornek buried the entire Flames’ bench with a reminder of the state of their season.
Maybe the rumoured 8-year, $8-million-dollar extension wasn’t so crazy?
Best “For your Hart/Norris considerations”
Vancouver’s wheels came off in the third, if only slightly. And who can blame them? Nursing a three-goal lead, first in the Pacific almost all but secured, and against two-thirds of the Calgary Wranglers with another game left in the season to go—that’s going to yield some lethargic play, whether Rick Tocchet likes it or not.
The sleepy third led to a fantastic goal-saving sequence from Quinn Hughes that ought to lock up his first-ever Norris (assuming those on the East Coast were still awake)
A slap shot from Andrew Mangiapane dropped at Demko’s feet, and Huberdeau hammered at the rebound, squeaking it through Demko’s pads. Incredibly, Hughes got a touch on the trickle right at the post, enough to settle it before pulling it off the goal line to lead a breakout skate from the d-zone.
Naturally, Hughes concluded the above defensive sequence with an incredible offensive sequence, hopping up to join Pettersson on a two-on-one for a tap-in opportunity.
Worst anxiety
It’s a testament to how damaging the Benning era was to Canucks fans that even a three-goal lead in the third period against the Calgary Wranglers was still not enough to have fans fretting about the possibility of not securing the Division.
The coach was pretty ho-hum on the club’s third-period performance, but I thought there was enough good in their play to forgive the bad.
After receiving a stretch feed from Ian Cole, Pettersson dropped Mackenzie Weegar with a reverse hit in the Flames’ zone.
Höglander set up Joshua with a glorious scoring chance off an odd-man rush that somehow didn’t draw a slashing penalty against Miromanov.
Near the midway point of the third, Carson Soucy drew a crosscheck against Huberdeau to give Vancouver their only power play of the game, and that was probably the worst aspect of their third-period performance, as the lethargy crept into their 5-on-5 play after the penalty expired, leading to Calgary’s only goal of the evening to ruin Demko’s potential shutout.
3-1 Canucks: Calgary goal, Brayden Pachal from Nazem Kadri and Ilya Solovyov
It was a tough break for Demko, who’d been stellar all evening. Not much he could do on a sequence where the puck squeaks through two Canucks diving for a block and between two others before bouncing off Zadorov’s shoulder and over his glove side.
The Flames would rudely welcome Demko back from LTIR with 40 shots.
The volume wouldn’t be enough, and with five minutes left in the game, Pius Suter would force a turnover in the neutral zone, leading to J.T. Miller’s 37th goal of the season to ice the game away for Vancouver.
4-1 Canucks: Vancouver Goal, J.T. Miller from Pius Suter
Miller’s goal was also the third time that the Canucks goalscorers went blocker side, post and in on Markstrom.
Something tells me Ian Clark had his club memorizing his former pupil’s weak spot ahead of Wednesday night’s game!
With a minute left in the game, Hughes sprang Miller into the offensive zone for one final chance on Markstrom.
Though it wasn’t the prettiest final 20, it will go down as one of the Club’s Pacific Division-clinching wins of all time nonetheless!
Best Division Champion
Worst Division
Please tell me I wasn’t the only one watching the Metropolitan Division (and the Red Wings) battle for the second wild card spot in playoff chases that can only be described as the hockey equivalent of Sideshow Bob stepping on a parking lot of rakes.
Against all odds, the minus-37 goal differential, sub-30 regulation win Washington Capitals were handed the second wild card spot on a silver platter after the Philadelphia Flyers pulled their goaltender in a futile effort to earn a regulation win and the final spot in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There couldn’t have been a more fitting end to this comically bad playoff chase from the East.
The Flyers, unaware that they’ve already been eliminated, gift the Capitals a playoff berth with an empty netter.
Truly, a beautiful game.
Worst news
Worst Dose of Reality
I don’t know who needs to let the team know that Sweet Caroline is famously a Boston sports thing.
Stop trying to make Sweet Caroline a Vancouver thing. It’s cursed.
It’s more cursed than hoping the team loses on Thursday night against the Jets, hoping for an easier first-round matchup.
Best news for Team “Rest Everyone for Playoffs”
Best Jersey Botch
The last time the Canucks hosted home playoff dates? 2014-15.
Who was the netminder who secured Vancouver those home playoff dates when their starter was injured? That’s right, Eddie Lack!
It’s like poetry; it rhymes.

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