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IWTG: Thatcher Demko and the power play carry the Canucks over the Canadiens

Tyler Toffoli came through with the overtime winner after the Canucks came back in the third period to tie the game.
graphic: Dan Toulgoet and Freepik

Any hope that the Canucks might stiffen up their defensive structure with Jacob Markstrom out of the lineup with a knee injury was quickly squashed on Tuesday, as the Canucks gave up 40 shots to the Montreal Canadiens.

So, their goaltending was once again called upon to bail out the Canucks, with Thatcher Demko playing the role of the trusty bucket. Perhaps Demko’s bucket has one or two more holes than Markstrom’s bucket, but it’s still a darn good bucket and the Canucks should just be happy that they have two buckets in the first place.

And also a boat to bail out. That’s nice to have as well.

Demko kept the Canucks in the game, particularly in the second period, when the Canadiens out-shot the Canucks 12-to-4. With the help of the power play, which went 2-for-2, Demko got the Canucks to overtime, where their skill took over with more space on the ice.

If Demko is going to have to be the go-to guy with Markstrom out, he got started on the right foot, with a stellar 37-save performance that should give his teammates plenty of confidence in his play.

If this game was a sign of how the Canucks are going to play with Markstrom out, that’s a little more concerning. Still, they got the win and the two points, even if the game didn’t exactly pan out as planned. My night, on the other hand went exactly as planned: I had a delicious burrito while I watched this game.

  • I can’t get over the fact that it was Jesperi Kotkaniemi bobblehead night on Tuesday, despite the fact that Kotkaniemi has been in the AHL for a month. Which is slightly awkward for the Canadiens fans that were trying to argue that Kotkaniemi is better than Elias Pettersson last year.
  • The Canadiens were targeting Quinn Hughes right from the opening shift, with Max Domi delivering a stiff crosscheck in the small of his back that seemed to stun Hughes momentarily. He took a while to get up, but didn’t miss a shift. Of course, the refs missed it entirely, because every hockey player deserves to have a back surgery or two in their future.  
  • I’m not sure whether it was the physical attention or just some bad puck luck, but Hughes did have some tough moments defensively. I suspect the puck luck.
  • For instance, on the opening goal, Hughes played the Canadiens rush pretty well, neatly knocking the puck off Max Domi’s stick. The only issue was that he lost sight of the puck, which went back to Domi along the boards. With Hughes looking elsewhere for the puck, Domi had room to send a backdoor pass to Paul Byron. Unlike Don Juan, Byron finished it in timely fashion.
  • Demko never saw the second goal. Shea Weber’s slap shots are hard enough to see as it is, given that he can blast the puck upwards of 106 miles per hour, and it’s even harder when your teammates get into your sightline, but don’t block the puck. J.T. Miller went to one knee to block Weber’s shot, but would have arguably done better just charging Weber at the point to give him less time to load up his shot, which zipped past both Miller and Alex Edler before beating Demko.
  • It seemed like the game was already spiraling out of control less than 8 minutes into the first period. That’s when Travis Green stopped the spiral like Doug Baldwin with a prudent timeout. Green was fired up, reminding the team, “We have ****ing 52 minutes here!”
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  • Fun bonus to the gif above: Jeff Petry playacting Weber’s pump fakes.
  • The wake-up call of the time out appeared to work, as the Canucks responded well to close out the first period, drawing a penalty with some time in the offensive zone. They quickly turned that into a goal, with Bo Horvat ripping a shot just under the bar off a pass from J.T. Miller. Like every element in the frame of a Wes Anderson movie, the shot was perfectly placed.
  • With the secondary assist on Horvat’s goal, Hughes has officially tied Dale Tallon’s franchise record for most assists by a rookie defenceman for the Canucks with 42. It turns out the ultimate question to life, the universe, and everything was, “How many assists will Quinn Hughes have in the 2019-20 season after playing the Montreal Canadiens on February 25th, 2020?”
  • Edler may have lost a step over the years, but he’s grown in wisdom. He’s the savviest veteran on the team and he proved it late in the first period, when he realized the Canucks only had four skaters on the ice and jumped over the boards to break up a Tomas Tatar zone entry. It meant the Canucks momentarily had three defencemen on the ice, but Edler broke up the play, passed the puck off, and went back to the bench, job done.
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  • While the Canadiens carried the bulk of the play in the second period, the Canucks got the only goal. Jake Virtanen cut off a clearing attempt by Nick Suzuki and kept the puck in the offensive zone, then picked up the puck behind the Canadiens net and relayed it to Edler at the point. Edler’s shot made like a dangerous lane-splitting motorcyclist and zipped through traffic.
  • It was a bit more bad luck for Hughes in the third period: Domi sent a centring pass in front of the Canucks’ net and Hughes tried to control it with his skates. Instead, it bounced off his foot directly to Jordan Weal, whose off-speed shot fooled Demko like an eephus pitch.
  • The power play came through again to tie the game for the Canucks. This time it was the second unit: Adam Gaudette made a diving play to win the faceoff back to Tyler Myers, who relayed the puck to Virtanen. Shotgun Jake walked into the right faceoff circle and simply overpowered Price — the goaltender got his shoulder on the shot, but it still had enough oomph to tumble over Price and into the net.
  • The Canucks had multiple opportunities to win the game in the third period, but kept fanning on the puck like it was the pharaoh on a hot day. Pettersson whiffed on a glorious chance set up by Miller, then Jay Beagle was handed a wide open net by Brandon Sutter and he missed the puck completely on the one-timer. Beagle’s miss was so surprising that the TSN commentators, while watching the replay, still insisted that Shea Weber blocked the shot.
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  • The Canucks utterly dominated overtime, to the point that the three Canadiens skaters were unable to leave the ice. The overtime lasted 1:35 and Petry, Domi, and Byron were on the ice the entire time, hopelessly chasing the puck. Miller won the faceoff to start overtime and then the Canadiens managed to possess the puck for all of ten seconds of the minute-and-a-half that followed. It was a masterclass of puck possession.
  • Hughes was the star of the show in overtime, darting around the offensive zone like waterbug to create two Grade-A scoring chances for himself. To keep him from scoring required a great save from Price and a hook that probably should have been a penalty. Good thing it wasn’t called — that would have allowed the Canadiens to make a line change.
  • Edler, Horvat, and Tyler Toffoli then took over, passing triangles around the exhausted Canadiens skaters. Horvat and Toffoli played catch with the puck, leaving Price helplessly guessing who was going to shoot. He guessed wrong. Horvat had plenty of room, so Price aggressively challenged him, but the Canucks captain instead set up Toffoli at the backdoor for the easy finish — turns out the trick, which Toffoli showed Pettersson and Beagle later, is to hit the puck.
  • Toffoli now has three goals and five points in his first three games with the Canucks, and seven goals and nine points in his last five games. Like a cat in winter, Toffoli is on a heater.