May 20th, 2024

Goalie question looms for Vancouver Canucks ahead of pivotal Game 5

By Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press on April 29, 2024.

Vancouver Canucks goaltender Arturs Silovs (31) blocks a shot on goal against the Nashville Predators during the second period in Game 4 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series Sunday, April 28, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-George Walker IV

NASHVILLE – After achieving a rare playoff feat, the Vancouver Canucks are facing a big question – what comes next?

Three different goalies have backstopped the Canucks to victories this post-season, giving Vancouver a 3-1 edge in their first-round series against the Nashville Predators.

Now the team must decide who’ll be in net for a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday.

For Canucks forward J.T. Miller, the answer doesn’t matter.

“It doesn’t affect the way we’re playing. If anything, you want to play harder for the guy in that situation,” he said after rookie netminder Arturs Silovs helped Vancouver to a 4-3 overtime win in Game 4 on Sunday.

“But it doesn’t matter who’s in net. We should be playing on our toes and playing Canucks hockey no matter who’s back there. I’m just happy that whoever’s back there is stepping up big for us.”

All-star Thatcher Demko – who was announced Monday as a finalist for the Vezina Award, handed out annually to the NHL’s top goalie – got the start when Vancouver kicked off its post-season campaign on April 21.

After missing 14 games with a knee injury, the 28-year-old American returned for the final two contests of the regular season, then turned away 20 shots in Vancouver’s Game 1 win.

Demko was sidelined by a lower-body injury ahead of Game 2 and Casey DeSmith stepped in.

With the 32-year-old backup in place, Vancouver dropped a 4-1 decision, then downed Nashville 2-1 in Game 3 for the first playoff victory of DeSmith’s six-season-long career.

“It couldn’t come at a better time,” he said after the game. “I was really disappointed with how I played the other night. I thought the team played great the other night and didn’t get the result they deserved. And tonight I thought we really brought it. We earned that one. So it means a lot.”

News emerged hours before the puck dropped in Game 4 Sunday that DeSmith was dealing with an undisclosed injury and Silovs would be making his first NHL playoff appearance.

“(DeSmith’s) a competitor, he wanted to go. But we wanted to play the safe route,” said Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet.

Silovs spent much of the season with Vancouver’s American Hockey League affiliate, the Abbotsford Canucks, making just four regular-season appearances for the NHL club.

Still, there was no panic when staff decided DeSmith couldn’t play, Tocchet said.

“He doesn’t look nervous to me, even before the game,” the coach said. “I don’t think the moment’s too big for him. I like his demeanour.”

The 23-year-old Latvian rose to the occasion, stopping 27 shots as the Canucks rallied late in the third period to erase a two-goal deficit and force the extra frame before Elias Lindholm sealed the victory with a goal 62 seconds into overtime.

Silovs has played under pressure before, leading Latvia to bronze – its first medal – at the World Championships last May. He was named MVP of the tournament and said the experience helped him stay calm when he got the nod Sunday.

“I played in Latvia, my hometown (in the World Championships),” he said. “It was like the same atmosphere, I would say. Either they boo you or they’re for you. It’s always great to play.”

Just one other playoff team has used three different goalies to earn the first three wins of a playoff campaign – the 2004 Canucks. That iteration of the club saw Dan Cloutier, Johan Hedberg and Alex Auld all suit up in the conference quarterfinal.

Whether Silovs will be in net Tuesday again is unclear. Tocchet said after Sunday’s game that he expects DeSmith to be an option for Game 5, but that the Canucks would wait for more information.

“Obviously, if (DeSmith) feels good enough to go and he’s safe to get in there, obviously you go with Casey. But saying that, we’ve got Arty. We’re confident with him,” the coach said.

“I don’t think it’s a lose-lose proposition. I think we win either way. I think the prudent thing is to get Casey healthy before we make any decision.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 29, 2024.

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