Canucks Post Game: Demko a creature of good habits, Hughes handles hype, Theodore eyes Norris

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Ben Kuzma  The Province

Points to ponder as the Canucks got a sensational 42-save performance from Thatcher Demko in the absence of the injured Jacob Markstrom for a 2-1 victory over the Golden Knights on Tuesday to stave off Stanley Cup playoff elimination:


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SLEEP LIKE A BABY, PLAY LIKE A TIGER: ‘I slept great, thankfully, and I think it was lights out at 10:05 or 10:10 and these guys go to bed a little bit later than I do.’

Goaltenders are supposed to be quirky.

They’re supposed to fuss over their equipment, be avoided on game day and approached with caution if they’ve had an off night. Demko is different. Very different. He’s a creature of good habits. He studies human behaviour and has the degrees to prove it. But, more importantly, he understands the connection between mind and body.

He eats well. He sleeps well. And he plays very well. Need proof?

Demko is the first rookie goalie to win his NHL playoff debut when his team was facing elimination since Jose Theodore of the Canadiens in 1997. Noodle on that.


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When Demko got word Monday night that he would make his NHL post-season debut against the vaunted and favoured Vegas Golden Knights — a Stanley Cup favourite even before teams headed to their respective bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto — he didn’t stay up all night. He didn’t wonder about how he was going to stop a relentless club that can kill you on the forecheck to create turnovers and come at you with blazing speed.

No, Demko slept like a baby Monday.

“I slept great, thankfully, and I think it was lights out at 10:05 or 10:10 and these guys go to bed a little bit later than I do,” said Demko. “I like to be rested and know I did everything I could to be ready. I’ll probably stick with that. And when you’re going into these games, you try to not to think too much and just go out and play.

“I’ve put in the work to get to this point and I’ve just got to rely on that. You just rely on the work that you’ve put in. I know I’ve been doing my thing in practice and making sure the details were where they needed to be. Obviously, it’s a little bit different than the game, but everything you see in the game, you see at some point in practice.”

Demko showed early that his tracking and positioning were intact and they had to be because the Canucks were out shot 10-6, 18-4 and 15-7 by periods. The 6-foot-4 stopper played large and would prove to be a huge factor. It took 25 shots to beat him when Shea Theodore danced in from the blue-line in the second period and went glove side to open scoring.

The first shot he faced was deflected in the slot and he would see five more — including sharp saves off Paul Stastny and Jonathan Marchessault in one sequence — before the Canucks managed a shot on goal. That was followed by a Reilly Smith ripper that forced Demko into a tough save and then reacting in quick fashion to keep the loose puck from trickling over the goal-line.

In the second period, Demko negated a power play with two sharp saves, including a slot redirect, but had to be at his best with the Canucks nursing a one-goal lead and the Golden Knights setting picks, going hard to the net and Mark Stone and William Carrier looking for loose pucks.


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“He’s an unbelievable goalie and really athletic,” said Quinn Hughes. “He’s a gamer. He goes to bed early and eats the right way. We knew when he got the chance that he would be pretty dialled in and I don’t think anybody was surprised with how well he did, to be honest. We know how good he is.

“I didn’t even talk to him before the game, he was just doing his own thing. We all have a lot of confidence and faith in him.”

It hasn’t been all gravy for Demko.

He was limited to to just nine NHL and 16 AHL games in 2018-19 because of a concussion in September of 2018.

“I learned a ton from it and what it takes to sustain yourself at this level,” he said. “My routine is definitely more intense this year to make sure I’m taking care of myself a little bit more before and after practice. It sharpens you mentally and I’m more mature because of it.”

HUGHES IS HYPED UP: ‘We have a really good team and we know that. The coaching staff believes in us, and most importantly, we believe in ourselves.’

The numbers speak for themselves.

Hughes is making a memorable first foray into the NHL post-season pressure-cooker. And while the heat has been turned up on the Calder Trophy finalist to handle hits and cheap shots to lessen his resolve, it has only grown through five games of the second-round series.

Ask him a question about how difficult the Golden Knights are making his usual seamless transition out of the defensive zone and he sounds like a puck professor.

“We’re just trying to play fast and get the puck in their zone,” he started. “They clog the middle pretty well and we really can’t skate through it and the longer we wait to pass, our forwards are stuck at the far blue-line. If we pass it to them then, they have no speed. We’re just trying to get it (puck) out of our hands quickly, so they can get in on the forecheck with speed. It’s the defenceman’s responsibility to get up and gap up and try to support the forecheck.

“We can probably do a bit better of a job because we didn’t have O-zone time and probably because of the forecheck and us trying to get the puck up so they can make plays.”

“We have a really good team and we know that,” added Hughes. “The coaching staff believes in us, and most importantly, we believe in ourselves. We have good leadership and knew we need to push. I have a lot of faith in this group.”

But what about being matched up against the top line of William Karlsson between Max Pacioretty and Mark Stone? The talented trio was held without a goal with a chance to close out the series.

“It’s not new to him,” said Canucks coach Travis Green. “We’ve tried to bring Quinn along not just offensively, but defensively. Almost from the beginning and Game 1 this year we put him out against (Connor) McDavid. We feel he had to get into those situations to play the minutes.

“He’s getting more comfortable with this series and has got better. Good players can adapt and young good players probably need to adapt. This is all new to him. And the best teams hang around and they’re fast and big and take away time and space well.”



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FROM LANGLEY TO NORRIS TROPHY?: ‘I think he’s in that conversation this year and, for sure, next year and for years to come.’

It wasn’t just Shea Theodore’s goal and seven assists through the first five series games that drew you to the Golden Knights defenceman. It was his ability to read the play, jump up into offensive opportunities and also defend with quick decisions and a quick stick.

Through 264 and 48 post-season games, the 6-foot-2, 195 pound blueliner had developed into a Norris Trophy contender. Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning could win his second Norris this season, but how far away is Theodore from that honour? Not far, according to Golden Knights coach Peter DeBoer.

And he should know. He guided Norris winners Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson in San Jose and sees similar traits in Theodore.

“Since I took the job from Day 1, what I saw was an elite defenceman,” said DeBoer. “I think he’s in that (Norris) conversation this year and, for sure, next year and for years to come. His confidence, his two-way game and he is dominant with the ability to take over a game. He has all those characteristics and the best part is he’s humble and good teammate. It’s not about him. That’s probably the best part about him.”

And he’s not just one-dimensional. His 15 points (5-10) in 13 post-season games — second among all blueliners often overshadows his ability to deny the opposition zone exists and entries.

“Theo defends from the offensive zone and his does it with his feet, added DeBoer. “It starts at the offensive blue-line with his ability to keep his gap and he ends a lot of plays before they even develop. And he has such a good stick through the neutral zone that, again, he ends a lot of plays before he gets back in his own zone.

“In defending, you think front of your own net or knocking people around in the corners. He defends from the O-zone back and goes back and competes and he’s not a big guy. But he’s not afraid to go back first for pucks and get physically engaged.”

The Aldergrove Minor Hockey Association product was the 26th overall pick by the Anaheim Ducks in 2013. In the 2017 expansion draft, Theodore was dealt to the Golden Knights so the Ducks could retain veteran Josh Manson and ensure that Vegas would take Clayton Stoner.

And now, with Theodore well past that 200-game career mark to judge progress, DeBoer believes that threshold doesn’t really apply. After all, if the true measure in post-season proficiency and durability, he has 32 points (8-24) in 39 games since being traded.

“That (200-game) mark is not an exact science of number, obviously,” he stressed. “It’s not like you hit it and all of a sudden, you’re a great player. The philosophy behind that is that it just takes longer for defencemen to grow into themselves aa this level and you have to have some patience with them.”