After Thatcher Demko made his biggest save this season, his mom, Danielle, was caught on camera inside the rink in Dallas exclaiming what everyone else was thinking: “Oh, my god.”
With just over eight minutes remaining and the Vancouver Canucks clinging to a 2-1 lead against the Stars in a game the Canadian visitors had to have to keep their playoff fantasy going, Demko looked beaten on a rebound but reached back with his right pad and elevated it, like a scorpion’s tail, just enough to rob Dallas defenceman Esa Lindell of a tying goal during a frantic power play.
Twelve seconds later, with Demko now lunging around without a stick, Jason Robertson missed the net point-blank. Another dozen ticks later, Lindell had an open net and the puck again and somehow pushed his shot against the post while bothered from behind by Canuck Elias Pettersson.
Then there were two more stickless saves by Demko on Robertson.
Demko later described the sequence as “chaos.”
Sportsnet play-by-play announcer John Shorthouse had another description, in real-time: “This is crazy.”
It was. There is no way the short-handed Canucks should have survived those 40 seconds of chaos. But they did.
And when Bo Horvat scored into an empty-net a little while later, followed by J.T. Miller’s last-minute goal, the Canucks had beaten the Stars 4-1 to inch within two points of Dallas and three points of the final playoff spot in the NHL’s Western Conference.
Including a road win Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche and an overtime loss Thursday against the Minnesota Wild, the Canucks have taken five out of six points against powerful teams whose home-ice records are an aggregate 69-20-5.
And they’ve done this right after a discouraging 2-3-2 homestand in which the Canucks lost five of the final six games and looked spent after their months-long mission of desperation to somehow save their season following a 6-14-2 start.
This is crazy.
The Canucks are 24-11-7 since Bruce Boudreau became coach on Dec. 5. The whole thing is crazy.
They have survived against odds, which are still overwhelmingly against them making the playoffs, for nearly four months. So those 40 seconds on Saturday night in Dallas? Well, maybe they just figure. These are the Canucks.
“Chaos, I don't know,” Demko said, five of his 36 saves coming during that late penalty kill. “We got a good bounce off the post there (from Lindell). A little bit of luck. Everyone's just battling, just trying to keep the puck out of the net.”
A little later, Demko, whose mental strength mirrors what the Canucks have shown, said: “The outcome's not really in your control. You can just focus on each individual moment, each shot and each chance against, and kind of take it from there.”
The Canucks have had an endless string of these big moments. On Saturday, these included Pettersson, who tied the game 1-1 at 15:25 of the second period, recognizing it was a forward he was skating one-on-one against when he backed up Joe Pavelski and then shot through the Star’s legs with a laser that beat Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger at 1:15 of the final period.
It included Demko stopping Vladislav Namestnikov on a breakaway right after that, and Luke Glendening on another breakaway late in the second period.
“When he's like that, the confidence on the bench and behind the bench is great,” Boudreau said. “You just don't think that anything's going to get in on him. And that's what great goaltending gives everybody ... the confidence to know that even if you make a mistake, he's going to be there to back you up.”
But it took more than Demko to survive that sequence-for-the-ages after Brock Boeser was penalized for hooking at 10:11 of the third period.
“I just kept waiting for it to go in the net, quite frankly,” Boudreau said. “I've never seen so many open nets a team miss in succession. I mean, Demmer was great, making great saves. But they did have some looks with no Demmer in the net. So when that happened, I thought: Okay, karma is with us tonight; we're going to sneak this one out.”
Danielle Demko might agree.
Thatcher said his mom just moved from San Diego to Austin, Texas, for work about two weeks ago.
“She's going through a big, big moment in life,” the Canuck said. “They're moving away from San Diego and I felt like I was so far away, I couldn't really help her out. So it was nice to see her. We had a day off yesterday, so we were able to grab some coffee and dinner last night and walk around downtown a little bit and just get some good time together. So it was good to see her. Glad we got the win for her.”
The Canucks finish their four-game road trip Monday against another formidable opponent, the St. Louis Blues (home record: 20-9-4).
When you’ve been chasing a season for as long and from as far back as the Canucks have, there aren’t many games that haven’t felt like “must-wins.” But the regulation victory over Dallas was special.
“Most definitely,” Pettersson said. “Dallas is a team we're chasing; they're ahead of us in the standings. I mean, every game moving forward, every game, every point, matters to us. This road trip has been really good so far, so hopefully we can finish it off Monday.”
They want to keep the craziness going.