The Vancouver Canucks saved their season after they beat the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 5, 2-1. After back-to-back losses in Games 3 and 4, the Canucks were down 3-1 in the series. In Game 4, they allowed the Golden Knights to score three unanswered goals in the third period to blow a 3-2 lead.
They entered Game 5 looking to come back in the second-round series. After a big win to save their season, the Canucks are now down 3-2 in the series.
Demko’s First Start
Goaltender Thatcher Demko started his first career playoff game after starter Jacob Markstrom was deemed unfit to play and did not dress. With Markstrom out, Louis Domingue served as the 24-year-old’s back up on Tuesday night.
It was six months since Demko last started a game, and he had only played eight minutes during the playoffs; he came in as relief in Game 1 against the Golden Knights after the Canucks were down 5-0 in the third period.
Demko saved the Canucks’ season in Game 5 with 42 saves and he surrendered one goal, which gave him a .977 save percentage on the night. However, the Golden Knights were the better team and they outshot the Canucks 43-17, but the rookie goaltender stood on his head. Demko became the first rookie goalie to win his NHL playoff debut with his team facing elimination since Jose Theodore did it in 1997 with the Montreal Canadiens. He was waiting for his moment, and he delivered.
“You never know what’s going to happen, so I’ve just been working in practice and been staying mentally sharp in case I was called upon. This is what I’ve wanted to be a part of since I was a kid. This is super special and I want to help the team any way I can,”Demko said after saving the Canucks’ season.
Markstrom’s Potential Injury
Markstrom did not start in Game 5 due to either an injury or fatigue. The Canucks’ star goaltender had started 14 consecutive games in the playoffs, including three sets of back-to-back games. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested Markstrom was either hurt or exhausted after he allowed three goals on four shots in Game 4.
“After watching Markstrom on Sunday night – their MVP this year, a Vezina Trophy candidate before he got hurt – he’s either really tired or possibly banged up,”Friedman told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver.
An injury would be a big blow to the Canucks, since he is the reason the team made it this far into the postseason. He has won eight of the 12 games he’s played in and posted a .919 save percentage. Although Demko stepped in for Game 5, there is no guarantee that he will have a repeat performance in Game 6, since he has only played one game in the past six months. If Markstrom is fatigued from his heavy workload, then Demko has provided him with some time to rest up for the next game.
Boeser’s Big Game
Brock Boeser was the second-best player on the Canucks behind Demko in Game 5. To that point, he had only registered one point in the series. Boeser scored the Canucks’ first goal to tie the game at 1-1 and later assisted on Elias Pettersson’s game-winning goal in the third period.
Aside from his two points, he was one of the only players generating offense for his club. Boeser had five of the Canucks’ 17 shots. He created scoring opportunities, which was a welcome sight from the sniper who has struggled to score in the playoffs.
He has four goals in 15 games this postseason, and his club needs more from him in this series. They’ve been shutout twice by Vegas, but if he continues to play as he did in Game 5, it could be a series changer.
Hughes’ Record-Breaking Assist
Quinn Hughes joined the record books in Game 5 after he assisted on Boeser’s game-tying goal in the second period. He now has 13 assists in the postseason, the most by a rookie defenseman and surpassing Al MacInnis and Janne Niinimaa.
He also has 14 points to tie Larry Goodenough, MacInnis, Glen Wesley, and Cale Makar for the most points by a rookie defenseman in the playoffs. Hughes also had a great regular season and was nominated for the Calder Trophy.
Lotto Line Reunited
Head coach Travis Green reunited The Lotto Line in Game 5, and they led the team offensively. Green had juggled his lines throughout the playoffs, trying to make something work for his club.
“He (Boeser) was playing well tonight. We didn’t have a lot of guys playing better than they had but he was one of them. I think he knew he had a little more in him. As far as putting the (Lotto) line back together it was just about finding a spark,Green told Sportsnet 650 on Boeser and reuniting the Lotto Line.
He found that spark immediately when he reunited J.T. Miller, Pettersson, and Boeser, midway through the game. Boeser had been playing great from the start, but Pettersson had struggled. He had played with Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli to start the game, and they generated zero shots and allowed nine shots against in 6:40 TOI together.
On the other hand, in the first minute of 5-on-5 play together, the Lotto Line generated two shots on net, including one goal, and allowed one shot against. In the third period, they added another goal, which became the game-winner. With the season on the line, Green needs to keep that line together.
The Canucks have managed to cut the Golden Knights’ lead down to one game. Demko put the team on his back in Game 5 but had help from the Lotto Line. The question for Game 6 remains whether or not Markstrom will be healthy enough to start. Although Demko played great, the Canucks’ best bet for a complete comeback is with Markstrom. Game 6 is on Thursday at 6:45 P.M. PST.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.