EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) — A couple of American kids made sure Canada’s last team standing in the NHL playoffs will play at least one more game.
San Diego native Thatcher Demko made 42 saves in his first NHL playoff start, Minnesota’s Brock Boeser scored and assisted on the go-ahead goal and the plucky Vancouver Canucks staved off elimination by beating the Golden Knights 2-1 Tuesday night in Game 5 of their second-round series.
Demko became just the 15th goaltender in league history to make his first Stanley Cup playoff start in an elimination game and win, and the second in as many days after journeyman Michael Hutchinson kept Colorado from bowing out of the posteseason.
“He’s an unbelievable goalie and really athletic and he’s a gamer,” Boeser said of Demko. “It doesn’t surprise me at all that he came in and played so well tonight for us.”
Western Conference top-seeded Vegas outshot Vancouver 43-17 and only cracked Demko once, on a highlight reel goal by defenseman Shea Theodore in the second. Demko found out Monday evening he’d be getting the nod because workhorse starter Jacob Markstrom was injured, got to bed just after 10 p.m. and slept great even knowing the situation he was being thrown into.
“I like to be rested to know I did everything i could to be ready to go,” said Demko, whose only playoff experience before this was an eight-minute relief appearance earlier in the series. “I think at this point you rely on the work you put in. I’ve been doing my thing in practice, making sure my details were where they needed to be. It’s different than a game, but everything you see in a game you’ve seen at some point in practice, and you just have to rely on that.”
Elias Petterson scored the game-winner 3:19 into the third period, tipping Boeser’s shot past Vegas goaltender Robin Lehner. The Canucks joined the Colorado Avalanche and Philadelphia Flyers as teams down 3-1 this round to force a Game 6.
The winner of this series will face the winner of Stars-Avalanche in the Western Conference final.
“When you get down to the last eight teams, it’s never easy to close anybody out,” Golden Knights coach Petre DeBoer said. “They found a way to win a game between some good goaltending and some opportunistic goals. We’ve got to look at it and come back and we’ll get another shot at it in Game 6.”
Vancouver went into the game seemingly at a major disadvantage with Markstrom out. There had been speculation Markstrom was hampered by an injury, though coach Travis Green earlier Tuesday would only say, “he’s a competitor and warrior and as far as tonight, come to the game or tune in to the game to find out.”
Demko led the Canucks onto the ice for warmups, ending the mystery and thrusting the 24-year-old Boston College Product into the biggest of pressure situations facing elimination. He was more than up to the task, stopping 17 of 18 shots in the second period alone while his teammates only put four on Vegas’ net.
“We had some really good looks too and he made some big saves,” DeBoer said. “We had some point blank shots that we’ve got guys that can stick those in the net and we just didn’t.”
Theodore’s goal broke the ice 15:12 into the second, but Boeser scored his first of the series 24 seconds later to tie it. Any momentum Vegas had toward eliminating the less-experienced Canucks vanished.
“They were controlling the game,” Pettersson said. “They scored a goal, and to get a goal right back the next shift was huge for us.”
Pettersson’s seventh goal of the playoffs gave Demko the support he needed, and he stopped all shots the Golden Knights sent his way in the third to keep the series going. He might get the nod again when the Canucks face elimination for a second time in three days.
“You don’t know what the circumstances will be, but definitely nice to get a game under my belt,” Demko said. “If I do get back in (I) have a comfort level, I had some work tonight will do some video, clean some things up and try to do it again if I get the call.”
NOTES: Defenseman Nick Holden returned to the Golden Knights lineup after missing Game 4, replacing Jon Merrill. … With Markstrom out, Louis Domingue was the Canucks’ backup goaltender.
Game 6 is Thursday.
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