VANCOUVER — Goalie Thatcher Demko believes the 3-2 overtime win his Vancouver Canucks gutted out Tuesday is a result that can galvanize a struggling team.
Trailing the New York Rangers 2-0 heading into the third period, Vancouver rallied with a pair of goals and Demko forced overtime with eye-popping saves in the final minutes.
J.T. Miller scored 2:22 into the extra frame, burying his second goal of the game to seal the comeback victory.
“It's a test of the will and the camaraderie in the room for sure," Demko said.
"Pucks haven't been going in for us very easily last couple games, but I thought we played really hard tonight, regardless, and it's easy to kind of stray away from that when things aren't going your way, but it was actually quite the opposite in the third there. Guys are picking each other up and working hard for each other and it ended up paying off.”
Vancouver (4-5-1) earned its first home win of the season and ended a three-game skid.
Miller and Vasily Podkolzin scored in regulation for the Canucks, and Conor Garland contributed a pair of assists.
Demko had 20 saves on the night, including some stunning work when Oliver Ekman-Larsson's hooking penalty gave the Rangers 36 seconds of five-on-three with less than four minutes to play in regulation.
Vancouver's netminder lost both his stick and blocker but still managed to make several kick saves — with his bare right hand behind his back — to keep the score tied at 2-2.
Miller and defenceman Tucker Poolman dove into the crease to help out their goaltender during that scramble.
“I’m just glad those pucks didn’t hit me and they hit him," Miller said. "I’m just there for a little second line of defence. I saw he didn’t have any of his gear on for a second there.
"It’s a full scramble and panic. That was nuts. But you’re just trying to keep the puck out of the net at all costs.”
Canucks head coach Travis Green said killing off that five-on-three was unlike anything he'd ever seen.
“I think it just showed the desire of our group to sell out and find a way to get the job done and we had (Demko) making a couple unbelievable sales, guys laying their bodies on the line," he said.
"That's what you want to see out of your team,. A heavy desire to win, a will to win that takes you to levels that maybe you don't always do.”
The Rangers (6-2-2) got goals from Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, and a pair of helpers from Adam Fox.
New York's Igor Shesterkin stopped 33-of-36 shots in a losing cause. The Rangers goalie stymied the Canucks for two periods before conceding a goal 1:29 into the third.
Garland looked ready to shoot near the goal line but instead sliced a crisp pass to Miller, who tapped a shot in back door for his second goal of the season.
Minutes later, Garland dug the puck out from behind the Rangers net and flipped it to Podkolzin. The Russian rookie fired a rocket from the face off dot to even the score.
Vancouver's offence has flagged early this season, with the Canucks scoring 21 goals in their first nine games.
But it began clicking late in the second period Tuesday with Elias Pettersson and Miller streaking down the ice for a two-on-one chance. Pettersson ripped a shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle, only to see the puck hit the crossbar.
Moments later, Podkolzin muscled through New York's defence and tried unsuccessfully to get a backhanded shot past Shesterkin.
The Rangers led 2-0 midway through the second period with their second power-play goal moments after killing off their fifth penalty.
Ryan Lindgren had just stepped out of the box when the Canucks were called for too many men. Panarin was quick to capitalize, unleashing a rocket from near the blue-line that hit Poolman and sailed in past Demko.
Zibanejad opened the scoring with a power-play marker 2:33 into the second after Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers was booked for interference.
Panarin threw a puck into the slot and Zibanejad redirected it up and over the sprawling Demko. It was the Swedish centre's second goal of the season.
"We made a couple mistakes. They obviously had a push back and scored on their chances in the third," Zibanejad said.
"I thought we did a pretty good job up until the third but it wasn’t a full 60 minutes and that’s why we sit here with the loss."
The Canucks continue their seven-game homestand Friday when they host the Nashville Predators. The Rangers visit the Oilers in Edmonton the same night.
NOTES: Vancouver's Travis Hamonic played his first game of the season after starting the year on a temporary leave of absence to deal with personal matters. The 31-year-old defenceman can't travel with the team until he's fully vaccinated, a process head coach Travis Green has said will be completed "soon." … Fox played his first game since agreeing to a seven-year, US$66.5-million extension with the Rangers on Monday. … Tuesday was the first time the two teams have played each other since Jan. 4, 2020, when the Canucks won 2-1.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 2, 2021.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press