Goaltender Thatcher Demko has gone from riding the bench to crafting a storybook playoff season in the span of 72 hours and he’s taking the Vancouver Canucks along for the ride.
It was just Demko’s second playoff start two days after he turned aside 42 shots to preserve a 2-1 victory in Game 5.
And if you count the five shots he faced in mop-up time in Game 1, Vegas has blasted 95 pucks at him and Demko has stopped 94.
“Thatcher’s been our MVP both nights,” said Vancouver forward Jake Virtanen, who scored the game winning goal less than three minutes into the first period.
“He’s standing on his head back there and he’s making some amazing saves, keeping us in games. You can see the confidence he has back there. He’s just calm and collected, playing his game.”
WATCH | Demko leads Canucks past Golden Knights:
Demko is playing in place of regular starter Jacob Markstrom, who was deemed unfit to play. The NHL is not releasing injury details.
For the past month, Demko has been on the bench, watching Markstrom start 14 games in 29 days, handle well over 30 shots most nights and post an 8-6 record.
Demko’s last start before the post-season was March 10, two days before the NHL’s regular season was halted, and later cancelled, due to COVID-19.
“I just wanted to come in and try to help out any way I could,” said Demko. “We were down 3-1, our goal was to win one game at a time and eventually get to a Game 7, which we’ve done.”
The decisive seventh game goes Saturday.
Robin Lehner made 19 saves in net for Vegas and is now 7-4 in the 2020 post-season.
Golden Knights forward Max Pacioretty had praise for Demko’s performance but hoped there were chinks forming in his armour.
“We played a lot in their end tonight, hopefully that will give us some energy to know that we’re a bounce or two away from hopefully scoring some goals,” said Pacioretty. “That being said, their goalie is feeling it right now.”
Thursday was the first time the Golden Knights, the top Western Conference seed, have been shut out in the return to play tournament.
J.T. Miller and Quinn Hughes each had a goal and an assist for Vancouver.
Miller scored early in the third period to make it 2-0, wheeling around in the right face-off circle and firing the puck far side past Lehner. It was his first goal of the series. He has six goals in the post-season. Hughes got the assist, his 14th of the playoffs.
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Hughes then got his second goal of the post-season, firing a slapshot from the point past a screened Lehner. Miller got the assist, his 12th of the playoffs.
Captain Bo Horvat scored into an empty net for his playoff-leading 10th goal.
For many Canucks, this is unfamiliar territory. Vancouver has not been in the playoffs since 2015 and this will be its first Game 7 since losing to the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup final in 2011.
Half the current Canuck players are in their first NHL playoffs, and now they’re in their first Game 7.
“As a kid, no one really talks about Game 1 or Game 2. I think everyone dreams of Game 7,” said Hughes, a rookie and Calder Trophy candidate.
“To give ourselves a chance after being down 3-1, I think we’re proud of ourselves (but) we’re not satisfied.”
It’s familiar territory for the Golden Knights. They were dispatched in seven games by the San Jose Sharks in the first round last spring after going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in their inaugural season in 2018.
All Western Conference games are being played without spectators at Rogers Place. The final-four series and Stanley Cup final will also be played in Edmonton.