During the 2020 postseason playoffs, the Vancouver Canucks had their backs against the wall and were down three games to one to a very physical Vegas Golden Knight’s team. In addition, they were without their starting goalie Jacob Markstrom. Their only hope was to throw in their young goalie Thatcher Demko and pray for a miracle. It was an impossible situation for the Canucks.
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In the end, it was impossible and the Canucks were defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 after the Canucks came back from a 3-1 game deficit. That loss eliminated the Canucks from the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs. But along the way, young Demko made everyone believers – he played impossibly well and came within a single goal of leading his team back from that 3-1 game deficit.
Demko’s Impossible Coming Out Party
If you watch Demko for any length of time, you don’t get a sense that he’s a party kind of guy. Still, perhaps the most amazing part of that playoff series was the coming-out party of Demko. He played impossibly well. In that series, the Golden Knights were the better and more experienced team. But the Canucks warned the rest of the NHL that they are coming and Demko will be leading them. In fact, if he plays anywhere close to how he played during the playoffs – he will be impossible to beat in the long-run.
Demko’s start in Game 5 of that series was a bit of a surprise. Markstrom had carried the team for the entire season, but he simply couldn’t play and the rest is history. In fact, Markstrom will never again suit up for the Canucks. During the offseason, he left for the Calgary Flames and signed on for a long-term deal.
During the Vegas series, Demko stepped up. No one could have played better the Demko did. He was on top of his game every game for the remainder of the series. Obviously, he had so little game experience that there were questions whether he was ready for the pressure of an elimination game.
He was more than ready. He played almost other-worldly, and his play was a key reason the Canucks extended the series to the full seven games. His play also hints at the possibility of a great future in Vancouver.
How Good Was Demko: Impossible to Beat?
In fact, even during Game 7, which he lost, Demko was impossible to beat – almost. He stopped 33 of 34 shots he faced in a 3-0 loss to the Golden Knights. The last two Golden Knights scores were empty-net goals.
Here’s how good Demko was. His shutout streak reached 138 minutes and 40 seconds, and took him all the way back to Game 5. Finally, Shea Theodore beat Demko five seconds into a Golden Knights power play in the third period.
Demko could hardly be faulted that the Canucks’ season ended Friday. In total, he stopped 128 of the 130 shots he faced in the four games he played during the playoff series. At one point, the California kid made 98 straight saves.
The big question for the Canucks is, now what? Certainly, Demko’s strong playoff performance gave the Canucks’ organization something to think about during this offseason. At least a number of Canucks’ fans believe the 24-year-old is more than ready to take over the starting job in 2020-21.
Demko’s a Strange Sort, But He’s a Great Goalie
We might only have begun to see Demko’s emergence as a goalie of the Canucks’ future. He’s a strange young man, and actually he’s a bit of an odd duck. That’s certainly the reputation he’s earned from his teammates. And they seem to appreciate him for all his odd-ness.
For example, during the post-game interviews during the Golden Knights series, he was fielding questions (Brock Boeser was sitting beside him) and a writer asked Demko about his bed-time routine. Both Demko and Boeser smiled. Demko rightly has a reputation of being a health nut. He prides himself (probably the wrong phrase) on getting lots of sleep and eating the right food: anyway, Demko answered that he went to sleep at “10:05.” He smiled at Boeser and noted, “These guys stay up later.”
Demko Had Been Biding His Time Waiting for His Chance
Demko, who grew up in California (in the western United States) but starred at Boston College (on the far eastern side of the United States), was a second-round pick in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. In the middle of the 2018-19 season, he was promoted to the Canucks when the team traded Anders Nilsson and put Mike McKenna on waivers. He’s stayed ever since.
The Canucks had been grooming Demko for several years now to take over the starting job in goal, and now that Markstrom has left town he’ll get that chance.
He was good enough in goal during the playoffs to even surprise one of his biggest fans – general manager Jim Benning. To say that Benning was pleased with the way Demko played in the playoffs is a bit of an understatement. And, Benning is looking for more of the same during the 2020-21 season.
Benning admitted that Demko’s play “showed not only me, but it showed his teammates and coaches, our fans and the media, that he is the guy we thought he could turn out to be.”
“We believed that’s what he was capable of, but to actually see it for three games and for everybody else to see it, I think it was fantastic.”
Finally, Benning added that Demko is “a hard-working kid that wants to be really good. With goalies, we understand it takes longer to develop. From a development standpoint, we’ve tried to do everything the right way with him. And we feel he’s now knocking on the door to be a No. 1 goalie in the league.”
Former Washington Capitals’ Star Braden Holtby Is Here to Help
Now with Demko having shown what he can do in the playoffs, the Canucks bringing in former star Washington Capitals goalie (and 2018 Stanley Cup winner) Braden Holtby will generate a nice battle for the starting goalie job in Vancouver.
By the way, you gotta love Holtby who took the Stanley Cup to his small Saskatchewan hometown after he won it in 2018.
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