Vancouver goalie Thatcher Demko sat on the bench for a month, waiting 14 games for his first ever start in the NHL playoffs.
Demko made 42 saves as the Vancouver Canucks edged the Vegas Golden Knights 2-1 at Rogers Place to stay alive in the post-season.
The Golden Knights still lead the best-of-seven series 3-2. Game 6 goes Thursday.
Demko got the nod after Jacob Markstrom, the Canucks’ regular starter, was deemed unable to play and didn’t dress. Demko battled a fierce Vegas attack all night long and an avalanche of shots: redirects, one-timers, odd-man rushes and goalmouth scrambles.
WATCH | Demko guides Canucks past Golden Knights:
Prior to Tuesday, the 24-year-old had seen 8:26 of playoff action in 2020, mopping up for Markstrom in the third period of a 5-0 Vegas blowout in Game 1.
Demko said he has been preparing for it, putting in extra ice time to work on aspects of his game.
“You never know when you have to go in. I just wanted to stay sharp through the whole process of training camp and getting into the bubble,” said Demko.
“When these guys have days off, I’ll go skate and make sure I’m staying sharp.
“I know I’ve been doing my thing in practice, making sure my details are where they needed to be. Obviously, it’s a little bit different than a game, but everything that you see in a game, you’ve seen at some point in practice and you just have to rely on that kind of thing.”
Elias Pettersson, who scored the winning goal, said Demko was the difference.
“The first two periods were not good for our side. Thatcher played unbelievable all game,” he said.
The game was also a redemption of sorts for Vancouver winger Brock Boeser, with a goal and an assist. He had been facing criticism as a top-six forward getting top-six minutes but, heading into Tuesday, racking up only 20 shots on net and three goals in the post-season.
The Canucks won despite getting just 17 shots on Vegas goalie Robin Lehner.
Vegas scored early in the second period to take a 1-0 lead on a goal by Shea Theodore but Boeser and J.T. Miller responded just 24 seconds later. Boeser, playing give-and-go with Miller on a 2-on-1, redirected a Miller pass on the backhand past Lehner.
Boeser then set up the winner early in the third, firing a wrist shot from the point that Pettersson redirected for his seventh goal of the playoffs.
“I know I haven’t been scoring and I know I need to score goals, but I’ve been trying to bring my work ethic each and every game and contribute,” said Boeser.
“It was nice to get one. It think it will definitely help the confidence.”
Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said, “[Demko] was really good and they were opportunistic. We’ve got to make it a little more difficult on him with a little more traffic [in front of the net].
“When you get down to the last eight teams, it’s never easy to close anybody out, and they found a way to win.”
WATCH | CBC Sports’ Rob Pizzo recaps Monday in the NHL playoffs:
Demko, drafted by Vancouver in 2014, is in his first full season with the team, taking over for a while in February and March when Markstrom went down with a knee injury.
Tuesday was Demko’s first start in almost six months. His last start was March 10, two days before the NHL’s regular season was halted, and ultimately cancelled, due to COVID-19.
He made 25 starts in the regular season, compiling a 13-10-2 record (3.06 goals-against average, .905 save percentage).
Markstrom’s status is not known. The NHL does not release injury information.
Markstrom, also in his first NHL playoffs, has been the workhorse for Vancouver, starting 14 games in 29 days, with an 8-6 record, stopping 451 shots (2.85 GAA, .919 save percentage) and recording his first playoff shutout by beating the Minnesota Wild 3-0.
He has often kept Vancouver in games, facing more than 30 shots a night. In 15 playoff games, the Canucks have been outshot by their opponent 13 times (they registered more shots twice in the Minnesota series).