Thatcher Demko and the Vancouver Canucks (22-21-6) hand the Toronto Maple Leafs (30-12-3) their second consecutive loss on the road, collecting a pivotal two points to slide them into sixth in the Pacific Division.
Coming off a 6-3 loss on Wednesday night against the Islanders, the Canucks needed to take advantage of the goaltender matchup between Demko and Leafs backup Petr Mrazek to get off to an early jump.
The home team would be without their number one defenceman Quinn Hughes and depth forward Matthew Highmore for the afternoon tilt due to being on the COVID protocol list. Defenceman Travis Hamonic slotted in for just his 10th game of the season, his first since Dec 8, after being activated off long term injury reserve.
Beating the Buds
One-shot, one goal: among a shifted lineup, forward J.T. Miller got a look at left wing on a line with Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser. Less than two minutes in, the trio converted for Miller’s 17th goal of the season after he fired the puck into a wide-open net after Mrazek’s poke check collision with Horvat slid him out of position.
After killing a Vasily Podkolzin high sticking penalty, the Canucks got right back to work on their own extra-man attack. Boeser was able to jam home a loose puck at the side of the net from an Oliver Ekman-Larsson point shot to give Vancouver a two-goal cushion against the third-placed Atlantic Division team.
The Canucks were able to leave the first period unscathed with the help of Demko’s 11 saves after more than a few close calls off the posts. Defence was the name of the game heading into the second with a two-goal deficit to work with, especially containing the Auston Matthews mania and sea of opposing blue at Rogers Arena.
Then, on one of his seven shots of the game Matthews pockets a rebound after being left exposed on the half-wall on a Toronto powerplay. Plain and simple, the Canucks didn’t do a good enough job of making the reigning Rocket Richard Trophy winner’s life tough enough. Before long, a second Toronto powerplay goal would erase a two-goal lead for Vancouver.
Now with the game in full control of the Leafs, particularly in the shot department, the next goal of the game was either going to make or break the Canucks.
Not leaving the game up for chance, Vancouver took advantage of a neutral zone turnover for a pass off pad play from the fourth line to grab the lead before the end of the second.
Despite having the edge on the scoreboard, this was anything but the Canucks game. The Maple Leafs, rightfully smelling blood in the water, peppered Demko with quality chances left and right. Vancouver seemed to have sealed the deal after Boeser, with an incredible individual effort, dove to knock the puck over to an open Miller for an empty-net goal.
Spoiler: it was offside. Hoping to capitalize on an interesting turn of events, the Leafs put six attackers on the ice in a mad dash attempt to get a late equalizer.
Things looked grim as Toronto plugged up the front of the net and got the puck to Matthews with three seconds left. His blast was blocked before the rebound was poked at with dying seconds left on the clock and the horn went off.
Boudreau’s Coveted Belt and Takeaways
Vancouver had no business beating the eighth-best scoring team in the league with only 24 shots on net. Demko is single-handedly saving the Canucks playoff hopes, which is at a ghastly 8.5% according to MoneyPuck.
That being said, the win wasn’t a result of all cons. The Canucks did notch a powerplay goal, and the big guns – Miller and Boeser – got on the board. Not to mention, the fourth line of Tyler Motte, Juho Lammikko, and Alex Chiasson continue to contribute to the depth scoring of the team, getting the game-winning goal of the game.
As a result, Lammikko was even awarded the brand-new Canucks WWE Championship belt.
To those complaining that Demko should have gotten it, I think he will settle for the first star of the game and being second among the all-time Canucks list of saves in a single game with 51.
Back-end presence: Ekman-Larsson was asked to fill the Hughes void on the blue line and he delivered, with a touch of offence flair. He has put up six points in his last four games. Vancouver also did a much better job physically, tallying 38 hits on the night.
Yet, the Canucks are still sitting at a less than impressive 19.6% on the powerplay and 70.2% on the penalty kill. Although these numbers won’t change rapidly overnight, they have been rather stagnant, and continue to be one of the biggest downfalls of the team.
Vancouver will have plenty of time to get to work on it before they take on the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, February 17 at 7:30 PM before returning home for a trio of games. At this point, the Canucks cannot afford anything but two points, especially against the worse seeded Sharks. You can catch the game on Sportsnet Pacific or listen to it on Sportsnet 650.