Shea Thedore scored late in the third period to break a scoreless tie and lead the Vegas Golden Knights to a 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks on Friday night, eliminating the last Canadian team from the NHL playoffs.
Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny scored into an empty net to seal the win in the seventh and deciding game of the Western Conference semifinal.
Vegas goes on to play the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference final.
Robin Lehner, making his 12th start of the playoffs, got the 14-save shutout win for Vegas to improve to 8-4.
Demko kept the Canucks in the game, which saw Vancouver outshot 36-14, in a third consecutive game of puck-stopping heroics.
WATCH | Theodore’s late marker helps Golden Knights take out Canucks:
Vegas had been up 3-1 in the series before Demko came on in relief for injured starter Jacob Markstrom in Game 5. He stonewalled the Golden Knights by stopping 90 of 91 shots over the next two games, allowing Vancouver to win 2-1 and 4-0 and tie the series.
For much of the game it was the same script: Vegas dominated the Canucks, left them running around in their own end as they fired shot after shot, many of which were blocked or missed the target. When they found their mark, Demko speared the puck through traffic or flicked out a pad to stop it.
Vegas had 21 shots through the first two periods while Vancouver had six.
Lehner was so starved for work that during one TV timeout he skated out to the blue-line and did leg stretches to keep limber.
Vancouver had four shots in the second period but the highlight save came from Lehner, flashing his glove to knock down a Brock Boeser shot on a wide open net on a two-on-one.
WATCH | Lehner stones Boser to keep score 0-0:
Vegas winger Ryan Reaves was given a game misconduct late in the second after delivering a shoulder-to-chin hit on Tyler Motte.
The win avoids a disastrous deja vu for the Golden Knights.
After advancing to the Stanley Cup final in their inaugural 2018 season, Vegas was up 3-1 to the San Jose Sharks in the first playoff round last year only to lose three straight and go home.
Theodore led the way, racking up two goals and seven assists against Vancouver. Mark Stone led all Vegas forwards with two goals and seven points in the series.
The Golden Knights were 39-24-8, good for seventh overall, when the NHL stopped, and later cancelled, the regular season due to the spread of COVID-19. The Canucks were 36-27-6, 18th overall.
WATCH | Reaves earns game misconduct for high hit on Motte:
All games in the Western Conference playoffs were played without spectators at Rogers Place. Players isolated between contests in a so-called bubble to prevent contracting COVID-19.
Despite the loss, the playoffs represented a step forward for the Canucks.
Vancouver had not been in the playoffs since 2015. They beat the Wild in this year’s qualifying round, then recorded their first playoff series win since 2011 when they dispatched the reigning Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in six games.
Their last playoff win was over the San Jose Sharks in the final-four series in 2011. Vancouver went on to lose to the Boston Bruins that year in the Stanley Cup final.
Half the roster, including key performers like Markstrom, Demko, Elias Pettersson, Boeser, and Quinn Hughes, now have 17 games of experience, including bounce-back performances and elimination games, to draw upon.
Their best players were T their best in the post-season: Pettersson logged seven goals 18 points. Bo Horvat scored 10, and J.T. Miller racked up a goal and seven assists against Vegas.
They also know they have two prime time goalies, with Markstrom becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Meanwhile, Canada’s last Stanley Cup continues to get even smaller and smaller in history’s rear-view mirror.
No Canadian team has won the Stanley Cup since the Montreal Canadiens defeated the Los Angeles Kings in June 1993.