VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) — Thatcher Demko had a career-high 51 saves as the Vancouver Canucks beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 Saturday night.
J.T. Miller had a goal and an assist, and Brock Boeser and Juno Lammikko also scored for the Canucks.
“It’s two points,” Demko said 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 stopped William Nylander on a breakaway in the third period and then denied Ilya Mikheyev to preserve Vancouver’s one-goal lead. He topped his previous career high of 45 saves and 49 shots faced against the New York Islanders on March 10, 2020. His previous season high was 40 saves against Pittsburgh on Dec. 4.
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 on March 20, 2010.
Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau, who replaced the fired Travis Green on 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.”
Auston Matthews and Ondrej Kase scored power-play goals for Toronto, which has lost consecutive games in regulation for the first time since October. Petr Mrazek had 21 saves for the Maple Leafs.
Matthews said Demko was the difference in the game.
“He’s just a really good goalie,” he said. “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.”
Trailing 2-0 after one period, the Maple Leafs tied it in the second when they outshot the Canucks 24-7.
It took Toronto just 25 seconds to capitalize after Vancouver’s Bo Horvat was sent off for high-sticking. After Demko stopped Nylander’s shot, John Tavares passed the rebound to Matthews who scored his 32nd of the season and 15th in 18 games with 7:14 remaining.
The Maple Leafs tied it less than three minutes later. With Canucks defenseman Luke Schenn off for tripping, Kase deflected Jason Spezza’s shot past Demko for his ninth with 4:19 left in the period.
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.”
The Canucks regained the lead when Lammikko slid a rebound under Mrazek with 1:30 left in the second.
“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.”
The game was barely 90 seconds old when Miller got the Canucks on the scoreboard 1:29 into the game. Mrazek stopped Horvat who was slicing in front of the net, but the Canucks captain’s stick looked to spin the goalie around. Miller put the rebound in an open 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. Miller also had an assist on the play, giving him eight goals and 11 assists in his last 17 games.
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 Maple Leafs came close in the waning seconds of the period when Tavares banged a shot off the post.
NOTES: Demko made his 35th start, fifth among NHL goalies. … Canucks D Quinn Hughes missed his third consecutive game due to COVID-19 protocols. … Toronto F 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 D 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.
Maple Leafs: At Seattle on Monday night to finish a three-game trip.
Canucks: At San Jose on Thursday night before a three-game homestand.
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