The Vancouver Canucks appeared to be down and out, faced with a 3-1 series hole and their starting goalie out.
A rookie backup from San Diego has changed their vibe.
Bring on Game 7.
Thatcher Demko stopped 48 shots, Quinn Hughes set an NHL record with a goal and an assist, and the Canucks staved off elimination for the second straight game with a 4-0 win over the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday night.
“Thatcher’s been our MVP both nights,” Hughes said. “He’s standing on his head back there, making some amazing saves to keep us in games.”
J.T. Miller had a goal and an assist, Jake Virtanen also scored and Bo Horvat added an empty-net goal with 4 1/2 minutes left. Hughes has 16 points this postseason, one more than the record for rookie defenseman Colorado’s Cale Makar set Wednesday night.
Demko did the rest in his second playoff start, becoming the third rookie goalie in NHL history to force a Game 7 with a shutout.
Game 7 is Friday.
“There’s no quit. We showed that all year,” Miller said. “Obviously (Demko) is playing unreal right now and we’re coming on at the right time.”
Demko was stellar in Game 5 when Jacob Markstom was deemed unfit to play and was even better Thursday night. The 24-year-old San Diegan stymied the Golden Knights with a series of spectacular saves and helped the Canucks withstand a flurry of shots with a 1-0 lead late in the first period into the second.
Demko has stopped 90 of 91 shots in two starts, leaving the Golden Knights frustrated in their attempt to reach the Western Conference finals for the second time in three years.
“We’ve got to find a way to score,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “You’re not going to win games when you’re getting shut out or scoring one goal.”
Vancouver staved off elimination with a 2-1 win in Game 4 Monday night despite being outshot 43-17. Demko was a big reason, stopping 42 shots in his first playoff start.
The Canucks started slow in Game 5, but swarmed the Golden Knights early in Game 6. Virtanen capitalized, catching Vegas goalie Robin Lehner off-guard with a wraparound through his pads.
The Golden Knights settled into their big-body game after allowing the goal, shutting down Vancouver’s speed and shooting lanes. Vegas held the Canucks without a shot on goal during a 19-minute span into the second period and created numerous good scoring opportunities.
But, like they did in Game 5, the Golden Knights had trouble finding the net. Demko had something to do with it, making numerous spectacular saves, but Vegas sailed shots past the goal nearly as many times.
“We blew some opportunities over the net or wide that we had some real good looks on,” DeBoer said.
Vancouver needed 63 seconds of the third period to score again, going up 2-0 when Miller beat Lehner from the right faceoff dot through a screen out front.
“That was big,” Canucks coach Travis Green said. “A two-goal lead is better than a one-goal lead, especially with that team.”
Demko stopped Mark Stone’s short-handed breakaway shortly after the goal, then Hughes beat Lehner through a screen from the left circle midway through the third period.
Vancouver pulled Lehner with about 6 minutes left and it backfired when Horvat skated the puck into an empty net, sealing a seven-game series.
“We’re confident going into tomorrow,” Vegas LW Max Pacioretty said. “We were confident going into Games 5 and 6., feel like we can win”
Notes: Virtanen was injured after a big hit by Brayden McNabb late in the third period and remained on the ice for more than a minute before being helped off. He said after the game he just had his wind knocked out. … Vegas went 0 for 5 on the power play, Vancouver 0 for 4. … The previous record for points by a rookie defenseman of 14 was set by Quebec’s Marian Stastny in 1982 and Philadelphia’s Ville Leino in 2010.