In a stunning sequence late in Tuesday’s third period with the Canucks playing two men short and trying to avoid being the first Vancouver team since 1984 to lose its first four home games in regulation, Demko made a “scorpion” save, raising his heel while lying flat on his stomach to rob Artemi Panarin of a game-winning goal.
To follow this, Demko made another pad save on the New York Rangers’ superstar with literally one hand behind his back, as the goalie was not only without a stick but his blocker glove as well.
Demko’s retro freestyle got the desperate Canucks to overtime so J.T. Miller, who was trying to play goal behind Demko when Panarin was trying to win it for the Rangers with three minutes left in regulation, collected the puck after he was stopped on a breakaway by Igor Shesterkin, then wrapped it into an open net to give Vancouver a 3-2 win and end their home losing streak (and crisis) at three games.
But it’s even better than that: the Canucks trailed 2-0 going into the third period and, after scoring only four times in 220 minutes at Rogers Arena this season, tied the game on goals less than four minutes apart by Miller and rookie Vasily Podkolzin, both of them set up beautifully by sparkplug Conor Garland.
“That five-on-three was pretty awesome,” Miller said of the decisive penalty kill that began at 16:20 of the third period. “That was the loudest I’ve heard this place — by far, probably. Obviously, Thatcher made some unbelievable saves. A lot of scramble by the guys just to get to overtime.
“You can sit in (the dressing room) and pout and feel bad for ourselves because we’re not getting any breaks. But the only way (to) turn the tide and get through this little scoring slump by a lot of guys is to keep playing the same way and add a little more.
“You’ve got to have faith that it’s going to turn at some point and we’re going to start getting the uglier goals. It’s nice to see them go in when we really needed them.”
For those whose National Hockey League history is mostly this century, LaForge authored a brief and infamous chapter in Vancouver as the worst coach in Canucks history.
His 1984 team was outscored 27-12 in its first four games at the Pacific Coliseum and he was fired after 20 games and 119 goals against. Those Canucks players were never much impressed by LaForge’s PHD – his rhetoric about pride, hustle and desire – after he had the losing team in training-camp scrimmages run in full hockey gear.
Nearly every time LaForge’s name has been mentioned since then it has been as a cautionary tale about the Canucks. Travis Green is no Bill LaForge, but the Canucks coach was a period away from becoming the first in 37 years to have his team lose its first four home games in regulation time.
Defending, however, hasn’t been this team’s problem. And neither has been goaltending.
Tuesday’s third-period carnival chaos was one of Demko’s finest moments. It was the loudest a Canucks crowd has roared in nearly two years.
“Guys battling,” Demko summarized for reporters. “It’s ugly, you know? Guys made a couple big plays. I mean, it’s just great to see that third period from our group. Obviously, a lot a lot of ups and downs this game emotionally. I thought we carried the play and got some rotten luck on both sides of the red line, but we stuck with it and came out and found a way in the third.”
On his scorpion save against Panarin, when Demko had neither a stick, blocker nor much hope, he said: “I don’t know if I’ve ever done that before. I got my eyes on the puck and I was trying to get a piece of it.”
Seconds earlier during the scramble, Canucks defenceman Tucker Poolman saved a goal, too.
“I’m just glad that those pucks didn’t hit me and they hit him,” Miller said of Demko. “It felt like he didn’t have any of his gear on for a second. It was a full scramble and panic. You’re doing whatever you can just to keep the puck out of the net. He was like laying on his stomach when he threw his leg up, so that was nuts.
“That seemed like it could be a little turning point for us. We needed that.”
A turning point not only for Tuesday’s game, Miller meant, but for the Canucks’ homestand. Their start to the season. They have three more games at Rogers Arena, starting Friday against the Nashville Predators.
“We weren’t panicking or anything; it was calm room,” Garland said of the second intermission. “There’s a ton of leaders in that room. It’s not just one or two, there’s a bunch. It’s just hard to score goals in this league. I’ve had plenty go off my foot, off my face. It’s just sometimes they go in in odd ways, and we need that.”
Demko said: “It’s easy to kind of stray away. . . when things aren’t going your way. But it was actually quite the opposite in the third there. I thought guys were picking each other up and working hard for each other and it ended up paying off.”