Thatcher Demko's hot play carrying Canucks back into playoff race

Adam Gaudette scored the only goal in the shootout as the Vancouver Canucks were able to beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2.

He’s on a brilliant run as a goaltender, but Thatcher Demko has a lot to learn about this hero stuff.

When someone is trying to build a statue to you, don’t argue with the sculptor and ask him to make you a little shorter. May as well go ahead and tell the artist to narrow your jaw a little, too, wrinkle your brow and put the look of fear in your eyes.

No, no, no. Be big. Be bold. And don’t get in the way of a good story.

When it looked to everyone Wednesday, including Sportsnet’s national broadcast crew, that Demko had made one of the saves of the season on Drake Batherson to help the Vancouver Canucks beat the Ottawa Senators 3-2 in a shootout, the goalie refused to take credit for it.

“Yeah, I actually don't think I touched that one,” Demko said. “I'd love to take credit for it. I think it went off the post, but I was just trying to get some net coverage. But yeah, if you guys want to write down in your articles that I got a piece of that, go ahead.”

So disappointing. And the modest fool said this on Zoom, so his admission is now permanently recorded.

Anyway, back to the statue.

Thatcher Demko is so good that even when he’s beaten, he isn’t.

Batherson’s backhand after drawing Demko to the ice did, in fact, tinkle off the post, which allowed Adam Gaudette to win the shootout for the Canucks one round later when he beat fourth-string Ottawa goalie Filip Gustavsson with a five-hole deke as Vancouver completed a ragged two-game sweep of the Senators for their sixth win in seven games.

Starting goalie Joey Daccord, the Senators’ first minor-league crease call-up, left the game at 5:07 of the third period with an independently-sustained lower-body injury. On the next shift, Josh Norris tied the game 2-2 at 5:34 with a quick release from the slot after Canucks defenceman Nate Schmidt was pressured off the puck inside the Vancouver blue line.

It was the second straight game the Canucks squandered a 2-0 lead on the last-place Senators – and the second straight they won anyway in extra time because their goalkeeper is about the best in the NHL at the moment.

The Canucks’ 7-2-0 run back towards the playoff race in the Canadian division has been funded by Demko, who in his first season as an NHL starter is now 7-1 in March with a .951 save percentage.

After Demko was forced to make 44 saves against the Senators in Monday’s 3-2 OT win, the Canucks helped him a little Wednesday by “limiting” Ottawa to 32 shots. But one of those was a breakaway save on Brady Tkachuk with 12 seconds left in overtime. And then, as if on a dare that it couldn’t be done from winning a faceoff in your own zone in the final seconds of OT, J.T. Miller’s unforced turnover gave Tkachuk another great look with two seconds remaining.

None of Ottawa’s four shooters beat Demko in the shootout before Gaudette, who has only three actual goals this season, won it with the first shootout marker of his career.

“I have to give credit to Clarkie, who gave me a couple of shootout ideas last year that I've been working on,” Gaudette said. “I just had a move in my mind and stuck with it.”

Clarkie is goaltending coach Ian Clark, who is not only building Demko into a superior starter but apparently offering shooting tips to the Canucks’ young forwards.

Clark’s statute will go next to Demko’s.

But no one is under any illusions about who deserves the most credit for the Canucks climbing within a game of .500, 15-16-2, and having the chance with games Friday and Saturday in Montreal to actually pass the Canadiens on points.

“This is obviously a good stretch for not only myself, but the team,” Demko said. “I knew that I had some good games in me and I knew that we didn't have a great start to the year, so we had to start getting wins and getting them quick. I'm just trying to help out in any way I can and keep going.

“(I am) just trusting myself, trusting my teammates, trusting in the work that myself and those guys are putting in. Like I mentioned, we didn't have a great start to the year, but I think everyone in the room knew that we were capable of getting wins. Obviously, with each win, the confidence is going to get better. And that's where that trust kind of formulates.”

Brock Boeser opened scoring for the Canucks at 2:29 of the first period, hitting his spot stick-side on Daccord after the Senators played their way into a turnover and a Vancouver two-on-one that was started by Schmidt.

Horvat, who passed to Boeser, then made it 2-0 at 8:26, tapping in from a gorgeous feed by Nils Hoglander during a three-on-one.

Senators forward Ryan Dzingel started the comeback three minutes into the second period by scoring on a rebound after a poor Vancouver line change gave Ottawa an outnumbered rush.

“We've always had a lot of faith and a lot of belief in Demmer,” Canucks coach Travis Green said of the goalie he started with in the minors. “He took some good strides last year and, obviously, played well at the end of the year. Probably wasn't as sharp as he wanted to be — we've talked about that — at the beginning of (this season). But I don't think we're surprised that he's playing well. He's a good goalie and we believe in him.”

Notes: Just as speedy depth forward Tyler Motte returned to the Canucks lineup after missing five weeks with a lower-body injury, Vancouver lost winger Tanner Pearson with what appeared to be an ankle injury. . . Despite making the four-hour drive to Ottawa from Toronto after the Canucks claimed him on waivers from the Maple Leafs, forward Jimmy Vesey didn’t play because the team was unable to update his work visa in time.

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