EDMONTON – Near the end of 14 consecutive playoff starts that included three sets of back-to-back games, Vancouver Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom allowed three goals on four shots in the third period on Sunday and looked tired.
Sportsnet insider Elliotte Friedman suggested Monday another possibility.
“After watching Markstrom on Sunday night – their MVP this year, a Vezina Trophy candidate before he got hurt – he’s either really tired or possibly banged up,” Friedman told Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver. “I wonder if Vancouver’s considering Demko in Game 5.”
If it is, it’s a heckuva ask.
Backup goalie Thatcher Demko last started a National Hockey League game on March 10. At least he had 45 saves that night in a shootout win against the New York Islanders, two days before the league shut down for the novel coronavirus.
One month into the Stanley Cup playoffs, Demko’s entire game workload since March is eight minutes of third-period mop-up nine days ago during Vancouver’s 5-0 Game 1 loss against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Canucks lost two games in two days on the weekend, which means Demko, if Markstrom is unable to play, will be asked to help keep his team’s season alive when it faces elimination tonight in Game 5 of the second-round series.
It’s hard to blame Canucks coach Travis Green for not finding Demko more minutes. Until Sunday, Markstrom was Vancouver’s playoff MVP just as he was their most important player during the regular season. Demko could have played the full third period of Game 1, but that extra 12 minutes probably wasn’t going to help him more than a week later. He did stop all five shots he faced in relief.
As for Markstrom, who claimed “I felt great” when asked after the 5-3 loss on Sunday if he was tired, don’t expect any injury reports from the Canucks ahead of faceoff tonight. Green hasn’t revealed anything since the playoffs began.
Of the five goals Vegas scored in Game 4, two went through Markstrom and the other three came from lateral passing plays in which the goalie did not move quickly enough from his right to left to stop the puck.
He looked tired. Or injured.
REST AND BE THANKFUL
After seeing the Colorado Avalanche extend the other Western Conference semifinal on Monday to at least a sixth game against the Dallas Stars, the Golden Knights have additional motivation to try to finish off the Canucks tonight: rest.
“Of course you want to finish a series off as quickly as possible,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said Monday. “Rest is a huge advantage. But we know we’re going to get their best game. We’re going to have to earn it. This team didn’t get to this point and hasn’t played us as hard as they have just to go away quietly. We know that.
“For me, this is an opportunity to close out a team and move into the final four. It seems like yesterday we started with 24 teams here. So it’s a fantastic opportunity for us that we’ve earned to get to this spot. You have to stay in the moment. Eliminating a team is always the toughest.”
The Canucks are facing an elimination game for the first time since losing to the Calgary Flames in the first round of the 2015 playoffs. And, no, they didn’t win any Stanley Cups in between.
When the series started, most people were talking about Vancouver rookie defenceman Quinn Hughes. Now they’re talking about Golden Knights D-man Shea Theodore, who has used the grand stage of the NHL playoffs to validate his status as one of the best defencemen in the game.
The 25-year-old from Langley, B.C., has seven assists in the series and was close to dominant on Sunday, setting up two goals while finishing with five shots on net and an expected goals for of 76.4 per cent.
Hughes, a 20-year-old Calder Trophy finalist who looked last round against the St. Louis Blues like the best player in the playoffs, has been neutralized by Vegas at even strength. Hughes has three assists – two of them on Sunday – but the Canucks have been outscored 7-0 at 5-on-5 with Hughes on the ice. He may also be playing hurt.
“I think for sure he’s going to be in that (Norris) conversation next year and for years to come,” DeBoer said of Theodore. “His confidence, his two-way game, I thought he was dominant (in Game 4). The ability to take over a game like that, he has all those characteristics. And the best part about it is he’s a humble, good teammate. It’s not all about him. That’s probably the best part about him.”
“They’re a lot more vocal than other teams and maybe say a lot more things off the bench. I think it’s just part of their game, what they do all year. They definitely respect us. I think everyone has to. We’re here for a reason. We’re playing them hard and we’re trying to win hockey games here. Hopefully, they respect us.”
–Canucks captain Bo Horvat on the Knights talking trash