The Vancouver Canucks forced a Game 7 after they picked up a 4-0 win Thursday night. The Vegas Golden Knights once held a 3-1 series lead, but they lost each of the last two games.
The Canucks opened up the scoring early in Game 6, thanks to a goal from Jake Virtanen, and they held on to their 1-0 lead until the third period. J.T. Miller, Quinn Hughes, and Bo Horvat each scored a goal in the third period to extend the lead to 4-0. Thatcher Demko finished the game with his first career playoff shutout.
The Demko Show
Demko picked up another big win for the Canucks in Game 6. With the season on the line, the 24-year-old had his best performance yet. He finished Game 6 with a 48 save shutout, which set the record for the most saves by a rookie goalie in a playoff game. Also, Demko became the first rookie goaltender to win each of his first two career NHL postseason starts, while his team was facing elimination since Jacques Plante did in 1953.
Demko has proven to be a great replacement in net for Jacob Markstrom, who did not play in Games 5 and 6 due to a potential groin injury. In these games, the rookie goalie combined to make a total of 90 saves and only allowed one goal. Demko’s performance in his first two postseason games is a welcomed sight for the Canucks and their fans, as he will likely be the starter for the remainder of the team’s playoff run.
With Markstrom out, the Canucks recalled goaltender Jake Kielly on Tuesday. Michael DiPietro, the club’s original fourth goalie, was deemed unfit to play. Kielly will have to follow the bubble-entry protocol, which means he will have to remain in his hotel room for four days while being tested each day, and he won’t be able to play for a week (from ‘With Markstrom ailing, Canucks recall goalie Jake Kielly,’ The Province, 09/04/2020). In other words, all signs point to Markstrom missing a week at the least.
Hughes’ Record-Breaking Night
Hughes made it into the record books once again on Thursday night. In Game 5, he recorded the most assists by a rookie defenseman in a single playoff run. In Game 6, the 2018 first-round pick had an assist and a goal. The assist Hughes recorded was his 14th of the 2020 postseason, which matched the NHL record for the most assists by any rookie in the playoffs.
Marian Stastny set the record in 1982 with the Quebec Nordiques, and Ville Leino tied it in 2010 with the Philadelphia Flyers. Also, he now has 16 points (2 goals, 14 assists), which is the NHL record for the most points by a rookie defenseman in the postseason, a record previously held by Cale Makar (15 points).
The rookie defenseman has come on late in this series. After he registered just one point in the first three games, he has five points in the last three games. He looked noticeably uncomfortable in the first few games, but as the series continued, he has looked more like himself.
“I don’t want to disclose anything, but I’m definitely feeling better now.”Quinn Hughes on why he’s come on late in this series from Thomas Drance of The Athletic
Miller scored the team’s second goal of the night, which was his first goal of the series. He had been doing everything but scoring for the Canucks against the Golden Knights. Before Game 6, he assisted on the last five goals scored by his team. That streak ended after Virtanen scored, but he picked up an assist on Hughes’ goal in the third period.
Miller has made the most of his opportunity in Vancouver. Head coach Travis Green believes the forward has exceeded all expectations on and off the ice through his skill, physical play, and leadership. Miller led the club after they were down 3-1 to Vegas and helped turn the series around. He leads the team with eight points in the series, seven of which have come in the last three games.
Canucks Get Help From the Bottom-Six
Virtanen’s goal in Game 6 was the first point from any player on the Canucks’ bottom-six in this series. Against the St. Louis Blues, the team’s bottom-six struggled to produce early on as well. They didn’t register a goal until Game 5 when Tyler Motte scored two goals, which sparked a combined eight-point performance from them in Game 6.
The Canucks are hoping that Virtanen’s game-winner will do the same, as Game 7 will be the perfect time for this group to step up. Green believes for his team to be great, they will need to find scoring throughout the lineup.
“Good teams have depth and they find scoring throughout their lineup. I’m not going to start putting pressure on certain guys to score.”Green said about the bottom-six not performing after Game 5.
Who Will Start for Vegas?
With Game 7 being the second game of a back-to-back, the Golden Knights may have to switch goalies. The Canucks have no choice but to start Demko, as Louis Domingue is mainly there to serve as a backup in case things go wrong. For Vegas, Robin Lehner started in Game 6 and has started in five of the six games played in this series. His performance has been inconsistent. In Games 1 and 3, he shut out the Canucks, but the games he’s lost, he has struggled. In all three of Vegas’ losses, he averaged a .852 save percentage, which is far below the league average (.910).
Marc-Andre Fleury has only started in three games in the 2020 postseason but has won all three games, including a win in Game 4 against the Canucks. The 35-year-old goalie hasn’t lost to the Canucks since 2006. He has a 3-4 record in Game 7’s, but he’s allowed less than two goals in five of those games.
With Vegas’ season on the line, does head coach Peter DeBoer go with the goaltender he has started throughout the playoffs in Lehner, or does he give the experienced Fleury the start? We’ll have to wait for Friday night to find out about that, as DeBoer hasn’t made the decision himself yet.
The Canucks have made a comeback after being down 3-1 to the Golden Knights. They will play in their first Game 7 since the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
The Golden Knights gave up a 3-1 series lead last postseason to the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks ended up sending the Golden Knights home in Game 7. The Canucks have an opportunity to complete the comeback and repeat history. Game 7 will take place on Friday at 6 P.M. PT.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.