SAN JOSE – When Andrei Kuzmenko scored in overtime Sunday to end a road trip that could re-launch the Vancouver Canucks’ season, two swirling vortexes of celebrating players formed on the ice.
One party formed around Kuzmenko, the effervescent Russian rookie who has 11 goals and 21 points in his first 21 National Hockey League games. But the bigger swarm surrounded goalie Thatcher Demko, before these two vortexes joined to form a perfect storm of happiness.
Kuzmenko got the glory. Demko got the love. Goodness knows, he has needed some during his poor start to the Canucks season.
After watching backup Spencer Martin win with the Canucks in Denver and Las Vegas, Demko got back in net against the San Jose Sharks and made 32 saves for just his third win in 14 games this season as Vancouver completed a three-game road sweep that, astonishingly, has the team one point out of a playoff spot.
“He has worked so hard,” defenceman Kyle Burroughs said after leading the charge off the bench to his starting goalie. “He battles for us every game. You look at those first two goals; those are crazy bounces that he can’t do nothing about. His work and how he prepares himself, he’s such a pro. For him to get that win, it meant a lot to him and I know it meant a lot for me for him to get it as well. I know a lot of guys feel the same way. He’s an easy guy to battle in front of every night.”
“It’s special for the guy,” defenceman Ethan Bear said. “We all know that he’s been battling a little bit and he’s been working hard to get his groove back, get his swagger back. Anytime we can get a win for a guy, that just helps build the confidence even more. I thought it was awesome.”
Playing for the second time in 22 hours after an early-morning arrival from Vegas, the Canucks were out of energy in the third period. But Demko made enough saves, and the Kuzmenko-Elias Pettersson–Ilya Mikheyev line produced enough goals, for Vancouver to get to overtime.
Kuzmenko won it just 1:12 into three-on-three with a wrist shot past San Jose goalie Kaapo Kahkonen after a breakaway stretch pass by J.T. Miller.
Shark Luke Kunin had tied it 3-3 on a backdoor pass from Erik Karlsson with 5:15 remaining in regulation time. The other two San Jose goals were on absurd double deflections, including one that bounced off Kunin’s head or back, arced unseen like a cornhole toss into the night sky and dipped behind Demko to make it 1-1 late in the second period.
“I think kind of at that point, I’m just laughing a little bit,” Demko said after the game. “What are you supposed to do? I try to stop as many as I can. Sometimes you’re just not going to do it. Obviously, it’s a tough road trip, an emotional road trip. We knew today was going to be tough, especially with the travel last night, having to fly to Oakland. And then obviously the five o’clock start on a back-to-back is tough. It’s a big win. That’s one of the ones that we probably haven’t gotten yet this year where we maybe did some things wrong but stuck together as a group and found a way to win.”
The Canucks have won five of their last six games and are now only one game below .500 at 9-10-3 after losing their first seven. They’ve lost seven games after leading by at least two goals.
Logan Couture’s power-play goal, which bounced off Bear’s stick, then his leg as it changed angles like Lee Harvey Oswald’s magic bullet, put San Jose ahead at 7:05 of the third period. But Mikheyev tied it from the slot at 8:14, then dived to keep a puck from getting turned over a few seconds before Pettersson redirected Oliver Ekman-Larsson’s shot through Kahkonen at 10:44.
So, the Canucks led, then trailed, then led, were tied, then won.
“It’s a great win, it’s a great road trip,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said. “That was courage and character. I mean, we were obviously tired, we were obviously getting outplayed in third period. But we found ways to bounce back twice. It was great.”
Especially for Demko, whose .885 save percentage is 46th among 51 goalies who have played at least eight games. He got the win, and the love.
“It’s not a secret, you know, I’ve been fighting it this year,” he said. “Marty’s been playing awesome and the guys have been rallying around him for sure. At the end of the day, I want to help out as much as I can and I’ve got to get my game going, too. The guys in this room know that I’m working hard every day; they see it on the ice. We were kind of having a chuckle after that first goal, in the intermission in here, shaking our heads a little bit. But like I said, we found a way to win, so it’s exciting.”
Even before they were piling in around him Sunday night, Demko knew teammates had his back.
“We’re all so close in here,” he said. “Especially since just how things have been going. . . to get it going, it’s a great feeling in here. Everyone’s happy for each other when we succeed.”
The Canucks play eight of their next 10 at Rogers Arena, starting Tuesday against the Washington Capitals.