On Friday night, the Vegas Golden Knights eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in Game 7 of the second round after a 3-0 win. The two teams split the first two games of the series, but Vegas won Games 3 and 4 to take a 3-1 series lead. The Canucks fought back, though, and won Games 5 and 6 to force a Game 7.
The game was tied until the Golden Knights took a 1-0 lead on the power play late in the third period, with Shea Theodore scoring the deciding goal. Alex Tuch and Paul Stastny scored two empty-net goals to extend the lead.
Demko vs. the Golden Knights
Thatcher Demko saved the Canucks late in this second-round series. He won Games 5 and 6, making 90 saves in both games combined and only allowed one goal. He had a 48-save shutout in Game 6. In Game 7, Demko was the best player on his team once again. He stopped 33 of the 34 shots he faced, which gave him a .971 save percentage on the night.
Demko replaced Jacob Markstrom for Game 5, who did not return in the series due to a potential groin injury. Demko made 123 saves over his three appearances and only allowed two goals, which gave him a .985 SV% for the series. Demko’s performance in the past three games will change how the club approaches contract negotiations with Markstrom, who is a pending free agent this offseason. With the Canucks in a cap crunch, they could move on from the Swedish goaltender and give the 24-year old Demko the starting role next season.
Canucks Didn’t Test Lehner
The Canucks failed to test Robin Lehner Friday night. Lehner has struggled in the second game of back-to-back starts, and he was in that situation in Game 7. In the second game of back-to-back starts, he had a 1-7-1 record coming into Game 7, while his goals-against average was at 3.66 and his SV% was .889.
The Canucks registered just 14 shots in Game 7 – two in the first period, four in the second, and eight in the third. The club did not show any urgency to pepper Lehner with shots throughout the game. Although they only registered 14 shots on net, Lehner robbed Brock Boeser to keep the game scoreless in the second period. He picked up his third shutout win of the series, and it was by far the easiest one. He made 26 saves in his first shutout and 31 saves in his second, but in Game 7, the Canucks couldn’t reach the 20-shot mark.
Canucks’ Power Play Struggles
In Game 7, the Canucks were 0-for-4 on the power play, which included a match penalty to Ryan Reaves. Reaves had been involved physically from the start of the series, but in Game 7, he earned a five-minute major and ejection for a hit on Tyler Motte. Luckily for Vegas, the Canucks only registered one shot on net and failed to convert on the five-minute power play.
Game 7 wasn’t the only game in the series the Canucks failed to convert with the extra skater. Throughout the series, they had 27 power plays and only scored on three of them. The Canucks’ power play ranked fourth during the regular season and helped them beat the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs. The group seemed to run out of gas against Vegas, though, especially in Game 7, when the team needed a goal the most.
Shea Theodore’s Coming Out Party
Theodore was impressive in the second-round series against the Canucks. He scored the game-winning goal in Game 7 and was also the only Golden Knight to beat Demko in this series. He had nine points against the Canucks, which gave him a team-leading 16 points through 15 playoff games. His 16 points ties him with Quinn Hughes for the second-most by any defenseman in the 2020 postseason, behind Miro Heiskanen.
The 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs have highlighted a few young defensemen, including Hughes, Heiskanen, and Cale Makar. Following his impressive performance against the Canucks, Theodore has joined that group as well.
Canucks Have Raised Expectations
Although the Canucks lost in Game 7, they have raised expectations for next season. Entering 2019-20, the club expected to make a playoff appearance. Not only did the club meet those expectations, but they also exceeded them.
They beat the Wild in four games in the play-in round and became one of the final 16 teams remaining. Then in the first round, they beat the defending Stanley Cup champions in six games. Lastly, in the second round, they were down 3-1, then fought back and forced a Game 7 against the Golden Knights.
The Canucks will expect to reach the second round in 2020-21 at the very least. The club has gone from being a playoff-hopeful team to a potential Cup contender next season. A playoff team is something the Canucks and their fan base have been waiting for since the last time the team made the postseason five seasons ago.
The Canucks Go Home and the Golden Knights Move On
The Golden Knights move on to take on the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final. As for the Canucks, they are leaving the bubble in Edmonton and heading home. The club will now focus on the offseason and what they will do with a few pending free agents.
Markstrom will be the highest priority for the Canucks, but the question remains if Demko’s performance in the playoffs will change the club’s approach to negotiations. Additionally, they’ll have to decide on Chris Tanev, Troy Stecher, Tyler Toffoli, Jake Virtanen, Adam Gaudette, and Motte. The Canucks have $17 million in cap space and will likely have to move on from at least one of the seven players mentioned.
Sartaaj has been watching hockey for over 15 years and covers the Vancouver Canucks for The Hockey Writers.