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Thatcher Demko Steals the Show as Jets Fall to Lowly Canucks

Photos by Rusty Barton and James Carey Lauder

Thatcher Demko Steals the Show as Jets Fall to Lowly Canucks

Coming off a home-and-home with the Edmonton Oilers, to which the team took three of a possible four points, the Winnipeg Jets failed to regain their mojo in a late-night, all-Canadian battle with the Pacific Division’s Vancouver Canucks on Friday.

Eric Comrie allowed three goals on 29 shots, while Thatcher Demko stole the show for the home team, stopping 37 of 39 pucks fired his way, as the Canucks took both points from the Jets, 3-2.

Facing off against a desperate team that had not won in five games, Winnipeg didn’t play a bad first period, or third period for that matter, but rather the time in between was what did the visitors in on Friday.

“We didn’t execute some things and we weren’t really, really sharp at some times and some plays died,” head coach Paul Maurice said post-game. “Even some defensive things, where you close the gap a little harder and you close the play and it’s out. But with that, I’m really comfortable where that five-on-five game was, for the scenario that we had. I was alright with it.”

The Canucks drew first blood, picking up their first power play goal of the game with 6:09 left in the opening frame. With Jansen Harkins in the box for cross checking, Oliver Ekman-Larsson found his second power play goal of the season, putting the puck low, glove side past Eric Comrie, who was making his fifth start of the season. Elias Pettersson and Vasily Podkolzin drew the assists on the game-opening tally.

Although outshooting Vancouver 16-12 in the opening frame, Winnipeg trailed 1-0 on the scoreboard. An Andrew Copp goalpost was the closest the Jets came to beating Canucks’ netminder Thatcher Demko in the frame

“Thatcher’s a great goalie,” Nate Schmidt said of his former teammate. “If you don’t get eyes to him, he’s going to make great saves. I think we still had some time to get a little bit closer than we did, but that’s the difference. The goalie makes a couple big saves, you get a couple big kills and that’s something that can really drive your team.”

Vancouver found the next goal of the game on yet another long rang wrister. This time it was fellow defenceman Kyle Burroughs scoring his first career NHL marker. Firing the puck through a screen, the disc actually deflected off the right skate of Nate Schmidt before beating Comrie up high.

With the Canucks’ goal coming just 3:12 into the period, Winnipeg didn’t wait long to respond. Nikolaj Ehlers scored his third goal in three games with a strong solo effort just one minute later. Picking up the puck on the side boards, Ehlers spun a complete 360 before ripping a hard wrist shot high, glove-side past Demko, bringing the Jets back to within one goal of the host.

But then, Winnipeg found itself back on the penalty kill, as Blake Wheeler was assessed a two-minute high-sticking minor. Although coming into the game with a struggling power play, the Canucks scored their second goal of the game on the man advantage. With 31 seconds left in the Wheeler penalty, the puck skirted to Conor Garland. He wound up and absolutely hammered a slap shot high, blocker side which beat Comrie cleanly, bringing those at Rogers Arena to their collective feet.

Again, maintaining their shot lead in the game, Winnipeg exited the period down a couple goals but up 28-21 in the shot department. Thatcher Demko and the Canucks’ special teams proved to be the difference through 40 minutes.

“You give a team a 3-1 lead going into the third period it’s tough to come back,” Adam Lowry said. “A team that’s been struggling, leading the third period they’re going to scoff it a little bit, clog up the neutral zone, make it hard to get on that and they did that. We kept going, we generated some good chances, we had some good looks, and it was one of those nights where maybe we were caught in the mud just a little bit. Maybe the hands weren’t there. Our minds were there; trying to check, it was just a little bit of a lack of execution, I guess you could say.”

With nothing doing through the majority of the final period, Winnipeg opted to pull its netminder for the extra attacker late in the frame. Down two goals, the team did quickly strike, as Pierre-Luc Dubois found his 10th of the season with 2:32 left to play. Kyle Connor extended his point streak to six games in earning the secondary assist on the play, while Mark Scheifele banked the puck off PLD and into the net.

“Bummer that our top scorer breaks his stick on the back side, of all the times, right? You know what I’m saying?” Schmidt said, expressively. “I think he’s got a great chance to score there, you know? It’s tough when something like that happens. I liked our guys’ urgency though, we had some good looks, we battled pucks out of the corner and got a couple good chances. Especially six on five, sometimes we are trying to make the cute play but I think those guys did a great job.”

Despite a strong offensive attack, Winnipeg could not find another goal, with the best late-game opportunity dissolving thanks to Connor’s stick breaking on a one-timer at the most inopportune moment.

Demko and the Canucks ultimately held on for a much-needed win, sending the Jets packing by way of a 3-2 defeat.

“I just felt we were a little short on sharpness and I thought that was energy-driven, not mental focus,” Maurice said. “The bench was good, the room prior to the game…a lot of times on back-to-backs, you’ve got a real quiet room going out to the game. They were excited about the way that they’ve been playing, we weren’t quite as good as we were in the last two, but we were still structurally okay.”

Eric Comrie turned aside 26 of Vancouver’s 29 shots in the game, while seeing his record fall to 3-2-0, while Thatcher Demko made an outstanding 37 saves while picking up the Canucks’ first win in six games. He is now 6-7-1 through the early stages of the season.

“You go from two real hard-fought games in Edmonton, and I think the tendency is maybe a letdown, maybe you’re playing a team that has struggled a little bit,” Lowry added. “They played a good game; they got a great lineup over there. That’s something that’s often overlooked, is they got a lot of depth up front. They got a good goalie in there and they can skate, they can move the puck and they were able to do that tonight.”

Having lost in a shootout to the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, Winnipeg has now concluded its brief two-game western Canada road trip with just one point in its last two games. The team will return home to Canada Life Centre on Monday evening for an even briefer one-game homestand as the Pittsburgh Penguins roll into town for a 7:30 PM central showdown. The game can be viewed live on Sportsnet.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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