Canucks rally around Demko with 'gutsy' effort vs. Oilers

Thatcher Demko made 34 saves to help the Vancouver Canucks beat the Edmonton Oilers 2-1.

VANCOUVER -- Vancouver Canucks skaters blocked 25 shots on Saturday, and goalie Thatcher Demko saved nearly all of the rest as his team gutted out a 2-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers.

If it were January, you’d say this kind of grimy win -- heavy on effort, light on artfulness -- would be a team-builder for a Canucks team that got embarrassed 5-1 by the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. But this is mid-March, and Vancouver remains so far back in the standings that the only thing that matters now are points.

So, they got two to bounce back from an awful loss and end a five-game homestand with four wins. But they should feel good about holding Oilers monsters Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to a single, power-play goal by the latter.

Six-foot-eight defenceman Tyler Myers, the one Canucks player who towers over them, literally, scored the winning goal with a top-corner rocket that beat Oilers goalie Mikko Koskinen from the top of the right-wing circle with 10:37 remaining in the third period.

The last and most important of the Canucks’ season-high number of shot blocks came during a late Oilers power-play and the six-on-five that followed it until the game was almost over. Defenceman Alex Edler blocked two shots -- including a point-blank chance for Draisaitl when Demko was down -- and J.T. Miller got in front of another as Vancouver rallied around their goaltender after abandoning him three nights earlier.

"I liked everyone’s game tonight," coach Travis Green said. "It was a gutsy effort. We harp a lot about the hard areas of the rink. We had a lot of guys step up and do some things that aren't comfortable."

Draisaitl’s six shots on net were eclipsed by the seven of his attempts the Canucks blocked. McDavid had seven shots and missed the net six other times. Edler and defenceman Travis Hamonic each finished with six blocks for Vancouver.

“Those guys are going to create off the rush,” Demko said of McDavid and Draisaitl, who are first and second in NHL scoring. “I thought our (forwards) did a great job of reloading in the offensive zone, allowing our D to have good gaps and making sure that we can shut down their chances coming into our zone. If we can make them chip pucks in and try and set up and defend from there, then I think we're going to be in a good spot. I thought we did a really good job of that tonight.”

Except for a couple of early two-on-ones for the Oilers, which were broken up by defencemen Nate Schmidt and Quinn Hughes, the Canucks were light-years better with the puck and up-ice than they were against the Canadiens. For the most part, they forced Edmonton to earn its scoring chances.

And when the game was tied 1-1 heading into the final period, the Canucks produced their best spell of the night. Myers’ game-winner was his 300th point in the NHL.

“I just tried to hit it as hard as I could,” Myers said of his strategy. “It feels pretty good. It was great to put the team ahead, for one, and for the guys to battle to get the win is the cherry on top. So it was a good night.”

A dull one, too, at the start.

An ugly first period was followed by an ugly goal when the Canucks took the lead. Held to just four shots on net during the type of first period that only coaches could like, Vancouver went ahead 1-0 at 12:59 of the second period when a rugby ruck broke out in front of the Oilers net, continued for several seconds under the gaze of referee Chris Schlenker and ended when the Canucks had pushed both rosters and the puck behind Koskinen at 12:59.

Schlenker had the best view as the All-Blacks and Springboks (these are rugby teams) went at it, ruling Koskinen never did have the puck covered. Canucks captain Bo Horvat, who is built for rugby, was credited with the goal and Oilers coach Dave Tippett was furious.

Horvat said the sequence was “pretty much a blur” and that the goal was easily one of the ugliest he has ever scored.

“It doesn't have to be pretty,” Green noted. “You've just got to get the puck across the line. When you're not scoring, being hard at both nets is key. If you want to score, get to the paint. That goal really shows the type of game we wanted to play tonight.”

This being the NHL and all, a borderline interference call against the Canucks' Miller soon after the contentious goal was followed by an iffy cross-checking penalty to Edler, as Schlenker and partner Brad Meier bestowed a 23-second five-on-three to Tippett’s team, starting at 16:21.

Penalty-killers Myers, Hamonic and Brandon Sutter each failed on a chance to clear the zone before Edmonton, its advantage reduced to five against four, tied it at 16:59 when Ryan Nugent-Hopkins teed up a one-timer for Draisaitl from a sharpish angle to Demko’s left.

It would be the only goal allowed by Demko, the Canucks’ first-year starter who made 34 saves and played the entire homestand, allowing half of his 10 goals in the one loss against Montreal and stopping 94.5 per cent of the shots he faced over the five games.

Suddenly 5-2 in their last seven, the Canucks head to Ottawa for games Monday and Wednesday against the only team in the Canadian division that trails them.

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