Thatcher Demko has now saved the Vancouver Canucks’ season twice.
As an encore to his brilliant performance in a surprise start in Game 5, Demko prolonged Vancouver’s season by at least one more game once more, stopping all 48 shots he faced for his first-ever postseason shutout in Thursday’s Game 6 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights.
Each stop made with Vancouver’s back pressed up firmly against the wall, Demko — a rookie backup, mind you — has now turned aside 90 of the 91 shots he’s faced since starter Jakob Markstrom was forced from the series following Game 4 with what’s believed to be a groin injury.
To say he’s been the great neutralizer would be an incredible understatement. The scent of blood eventually morphing into their own desperation, the Vegas Golden Knights have completely owned the run of play in Demko’s starts, running up a 91-40 advantage in targets, only to be outscored a total of 6-1.
That one goal from Vegas is all it can show from 169 total shot attempts, 91 scoring chances, and 36 high-danger looks on Demko, according to Natural Stat Trick, which also notes the Golden Knights’ two-game output has been worth 8.79 expected goals.
Demko’s goals saved above replacement in the NHL’s postseason stands at 7.19, which trails only Joonas Korpisalo of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who at the current moment has logged almost five times as many minutes as the Canucks’ backup. That means in two starts Demko has taken as many goals off the board from the opposition as Carey Price, Andrei Vasilevskiy and Carter Hart have in 10, 13, and 13 appearances in this postseason, respectively.
With his historically brilliant pair of performances, Demko has left the Canucks with questions in both the immediate and long term.
While every expectation should be that despite how taxed he may be after Game 6, that he’ll be called on to start in Game 7, which will be played — highly questionably at that — on the second night of a back-to-back Friday night.
What might be the more difficult call, now, is landing on the optimal way to slot Demko in the future — be it in the starter’s role or to continue on in support of Markstrom, who will be negotiating a new contract this summer.
While Demko’s emergence, the cost to retain Markstrom and the associated cap crunch, the threat of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, and the fact that he’s excelled at every level of his development are all signs that would point to handing the 24-year-old the featured role making the most sense.
However the plan moving forward always seemed to include keeping Markstrom, who had a moment of his own this season.
Plans do change, though. And that may be the case here for the Canucks, who suddenly have a real chance to stick around the bubble longer than they probably should, and who might take a completely different path this offseason — no matter what happens in Game 7.
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