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Canucks ride goaltending of Thatcher Demko in win over Leafs

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks leaped out to the start they wanted then got the goaltending they needed from Thatcher Demko for a 3-2 NHL win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night.
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Vancouver Canucks' Tyler Myers (57) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Auston Matthews (34) vie for the puck during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Vancouver, on Saturday, February 12, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

VANCOUVER — The Vancouver Canucks leaped out to the start they wanted then got the goaltending they needed from Thatcher Demko for a 3-2 NHL win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Saturday night.

The Leafs outshot the Canucks 53-24 but still lost back-to-back games in regulation for the first time since October.

Nursing a one-goal lead in the third, Demko stopped William Nylander on a breakaway, then blocked an Ilya Mikheyev shot.

Typically, Demko was more focused on his team’s result than his role in earning the win.

“It’s two points,” he shrugged after the game. “It doesn’t matter what the circumstances are. I try to make as many saves as I can to try and get two points.

“The result was good. That’s all that matters.”

Demko became the second goaltender this season to make at least 50 saves in a game, joining Elvis Merzlikins of Columbus who stopped 56 shots in a game on Jan. 26.

Demko is the fifth goaltender in Canucks franchise history to record at least 50 saves in a game and the first since Roberto Luongo stopped 50 shots on March 20, 2010. The team record is five saves, set by Dunc Wilson back in 1971.

Toronto’s Auston Matthews said Demko was the difference in the game.

“He’s just a really good goalie,” said Matthews, one of the Leafs who managed to beat Demko. “He’s really big and athletic.

“He’s a been a big key for them as far as turning their season around and getting some more wins.”

J.T. Miller scored one goal in the first period and set up another by Brock Boeser on the power play as the Canucks led 2-0 with the game just six minutes old.

Juho Lammikko added a big goal late in the second period for Vancouver (22-21-6).

Miller has 19 points (8-11) in his last 17 games.

Matthews and Ondrej Kase scored power-play goals 2:55 apart in the second period for the Leafs (30-12-3), who lost 5-2 in Calgary Thursday night.

Goalie Petr Mrazek stopped 21 shots for Toronto.

The game pitted the Toronto power play, ranked first in the league, against a Canucks penalty kill rated the worst.

A loud contingent of Toronto fans chanted “go Leafs go” during the game at Rogers Arena, which was only half full due to COVID-19 restrictions. Canuck fans responded with chants of “Leafs suck.”

Head coach Bruce Boudreau, who replaced the fired Travis Green Dec. 5, said he’s become accustomed to Demko making the impossible look easy.

“We’ve been talking about him all year,” said Boudreau. “He certainly is showing us what he can do. It was a valiant effort.

“Let’s face it, when you get 50-plus shots and only two power-play goals, your goaltender is doing something really well.”

Miller said getting the early lead, and not being forced to play from behind, was crucial against the high-octane Leafs.

“Tonight, I thought we did a good job of starting fast and straightforward,” he said. “We got rewarded with a couple breaks, a couple of bounces.

“We titled the ice nicely.”

The game was barely 90 seconds old when Miller scored on a play that left Mrazek seeing red. He stopped Bo Horvat, who was slicing in front of the net, but the Canucks captain’s stick looked to spin the Leafs goalie around. Miller put the rebound in an empty net.

Mrazek argued but Toronto didn’t challenge the play.

Boeser made it 2-0 at 6:00 after Toronto’s Pierre Engvall was called for high-sticking. He put in the rebound off a shot through traffic from Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The Leafs battled back with Matthews and Kase scoring power-play goals. For Matthews, it was his 15th goal in 18 games.

The Canucks regained the lead when Lammikko slid a rebound under Mrazek at 18:30.

“We had a lot of work to do going into the third but that was a big goal for us,” said Miller. “There’s a big difference between being tied and a one-goal lead.

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe liked the fight his team showed.

“They are a team that relies on world-class goaltending to win games,” said Keefe. “You give them a two-goal lead and it’s an uphill climb.

“I love that our guys kept fighting. Goaltending was the difference.”

Boudreau bristled when asked if he felt lucky the Canucks won the game.

“I don’t care if we got outshot,” he said. “I don’t care if we got outplayed. We ended up winning the game, that’s the bottom line.”

NOTES:  Demko made his 35th start, fifth among NHL goalies. … Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes missed his third consecutive game due to COVID-19 protocols. … Toronto forward Wayne Simmonds returned to the lineup after missing the loss in Calgary to be with his wife for the birth of their first child. … Vancouver defenceman Travis Hamonic played after missing 21 games with an ankle injury. … The last time Toronto lost back-to-back games in regulation was Oct. 22 and Oct. 25.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 12, 2022.

Jim Morris, The Canadian Press