VANCOUVER — You look at the lineup sheet before every game, and when the Toronto Maple Leafs are in town it’s impossible not to see names like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly.
Demko became just the second Canucks goalie in 37 years to make at least 50 saves in a National Hockey League game when he stymied the stars from the centre of the universe by making 51 stops in a 3-2 victory over the Maple Leafs.
The last Canuck to record a half-century of saves was Roberto Luongo in 2010, a month after the Vancouver Winter Olympics, in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Detroit Red Wings.
When former Canucks general manager Dave Nonis made the trade for Luongo, in 2006, he said he wanted to sleep. He explained that New Jersey Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello always slept like a baby because he had Martin Brodeur in net, and Nonis was tired of restless nights.
Demko allows the Canucks to sleep at night.
Sometimes he even lets them get away with sleeping during games, although that’s not what happened on Saturday despite Toronto outshooting Vancouver 53-24, including 41-13 over the final two periods.
The Canucks weren’t snoozing but were seeing a nightmare anyway: a deep, fast, talented team attacking in waves crested by their superstars. The Maple Leafs are better than the Canucks. There’s no argument about this. Right now, it’s not close.
But the Canucks have Demko and, on Saturday, the Maple Leafs had Petr Mrazek in their crease and that was the difference.
Demko had a performance for the ages. Mrazek jettisoned a big, fat rebound that Canucks fourth-liner Juho Lammikko jammed in to break a 2-2 tie at 18:30 of the second period. And just 23 more saves later, Demko won the Canucks the game.
“I've been on teams that heavily outshot teams and we lost, and nobody felt sorry for us,” Vancouver head coach Bruce Boudreau said. “I don't care if we got outshot, I don't care if we got outplayed, we ended up winning the game and that's the bottom line.
“It would take a fool to think that we don't know that the goalie was amazing. But he's our goalie and we get to have him every night. We get an amazing goalie every single night, so that's great for us.”
After the equivalent of a couple of “yeah, buts...” from reporters, Boudreau doubled down: “I'm not going to go home and cry. You guys want me to say: 'Hey, we got outplayed. Woe is us.’ We won the hockey game. C'mon, guys, give the team some credit for hanging in there.”
Well, the Canucks did that.
The game ended with most of the Vancouver roster down on the ice with Demko in front of the Canucks’ net after a final desperate swarming by the Maple Leafs. On his 15th and final shot attempt of the game, Matthews' one-timer was blocked in front of Demko by Oliver Ekman-Larsson, which forced the goalie to adjust to the ricochet and lunge right to make a point-blank buzzer save on Michael Bunting.
Lammikko’s goal was the game’s final one, and it should have been worth more than one tick on the scoresheet because it came near the end of a period when the Canucks had been utterly dominated and soon after Vancouver had surrendered a two-goal lead as Matthews and Ondrej Kase scored power-play goals three minutes apart.
“I liked, after they made it 2-2, how our response was to make it 3-2 within a couple minutes,” Boudreau said. “The determination ... that's a great hockey club. I mean, let's not kid ourselves. It's the fastest club we've seen and with the most firepower. And we hung on. We didn't quit and we won the game.
"It's a game that ... people wouldn't have expected us to win, and we went out and we won it. Whether we got outplayed or not makes no difference to me. We ended up with the two points.”
After starting their first two games dismally after last week’s All-Star break, the Canucks’ best period on Saturday was the opening one as J.T. Miller and Brock Boeser, on a power play, scored in the first six minutes. The next 54 belonged to Demko.
He epitomizes the stay-in-the-moment, next-shot mentality that goaltenders are supposed to have, and seemed about as euphoric after the game as if he’d just successfully folded his laundry.
Fifty-one saves to beat the Maple Leafs on Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada. Will Demko remember this game?
“I don't know, maybe,” he said. “You have to ask me in a couple months. I mean, it's two points. You guys hear me say it enough: it doesn't matter what the circumstances are, I've just got to try and make as many saves as I can. Try to get two points. So the end result was good, and that's all that matters.”
In two starts and an extended relief appearance since he returned from the All-Star Game, Demko has stopped 100 of 104 shots for a .962 save rate. What makes his play especially impressive is that it comes after a one-week break between NHL games — the kind of layoff that in the past might have disrupted the goaltender’s rhythm.
“Something that has been frustrating this year is all the pauses, all the stuff we've had to deal with as a league,” Demko said. “It's something I've been working on.
“It's just something that we've had to deal with, something that I felt I could get better at. So, coming out of All-Star break, it was a main focal point of mine to make sure I was (ready) from the get-go.”
The Canucks have another mini-break in the schedule before they play again Thursday against the San Jose Sharks. They’ll sleep well until then.