VANCOUVER — It had been awhile since the Vancouver Canucks held an opponent off the scoresheet — 133 games, to be precise.
That changed Thursday when Thatcher Demko stopped all 33 shots he faced, backstopping Vancouver to a 3-0 victory over the struggling Chicago Blackhawks for the third shutout of his NHL career.
“He’s just solid,” coach Rick Tocchet said of his goalie. “Even some of the saves he made, I think they were grade-A saves, but they’re routine. He just looked big in the net tonight, like nothing was going to get by him.
“Even when they had a couple of backdoor chances, he was there, post to post.”
The last time Demko and the Canucks (35-36-7) collected a shutout was Dec. 6, 2021 when they beat the L.A. Kings 4-0 in their first game under then-head coach Bruce Boudreau.
Asked Thursday if he realized how long ago that result was, Demko smiled and answered simply.
“No,” he said.
“I try to stop them all every night. It doesn’t always work out that way but it feels good.”
Andrei Kuzmenko, Vitali Kravtsov and J.T. Miller — into the empty net — all scored for the Canucks, while defenceman Akito Hirose contributed a pair of assists.
Alex Stalock stopped 26-of-28 shots for the Blackhawks (25-47-6), who were coming off a 4-3 victory over the Calgary Flames on Tuesday but have now lost nine of their last 10 outings.
“We still kept plugging to the end and that’s kind of been the way we work all year,” said Chicago coach Luke Richardson. “We’ll just keep staying positive and know that we’ve had a couple of stale games earlier in the year, and we usually come back and get some goals the next game.”
Chicago pulled Stalock in favour of an extra attacker late in the third period and Miller capitalized with 24.4 seconds to go, banking a shot off the boards and into the empty net.
The Blackhawks outshot the Canucks 14-9 across the period, but couldn’t get a puck past Demko.
Jujhar Khaira got a prime attempt 10:40 into the frame, collecting a pass from behind the net and unleashing a shot from the slot, only to see Demko come out to the top of the crease and swallow up the puck.
“(Demko) is a pretty good goalie over there,” said Chicago’s Jason Dickinson, who spent last season with Vancouver. “It felt like we had a lot of chances, a lot of traffic to the net, a lot of tips and still just couldn’t find a way to get that one to go home.”
The Canucks went up 2-0 early in the second after Jonathan Toews was called for hooking.
Conor Garland sliced a pass across to Kravtsov who fired a one-timer into the net for his first goal for Vancouver 3:53 into the frame.
“Having points is always nice but I have to play much better and keep building from that, and try to show my effort,” Kravtsov said. “I want to stay on this team and in this league.”
The Canucks acquired the 23-year-old winger from the New York Rangers at the end of February in exchange for forward Will Lockwood and a seventh-round draft pick in 2026.
Kravtsov has struggled to find his place in Vancouver’s lineup, though, and was a healthy scratch three games in a row before Thursday’s matchup.
Kuzmenko opened the scoring with a long-range blast 16:16 into the game.
Stationed at the point, the Russian winger fired a rocket through traffic and past Stalock’s glove for his 38th goal of the season.
Hirose registered a secondary assist on the play, marking his first NHL point.
Demko kept the game scoreless with a big short-handed save midway through the first after Ethan Bear was called for high-sticking.
Boris Katchouk tried to jam in a wrist shot from the side of the Canucks net but the goalie stymied the attempt with a deft left-pad stop.
Chicago went 0 for 3 with the man advantage Thursday while Vancouver was 1 for 3.
Thursday’s result snapped a four-game winless skid (0-2-2) for the Canucks
Finishing the season on a high is a priority for everyone in Vancouver’s locker room, Demko said.
“We’ve had meetings the last day or two, just making sure that we’re all bought in here the last stretch and definitely a step in the right direction,” he said.
Canucks defenceman Cole McWard made his NHL debut. The 21-year-old signed a two-year, entry-level deal with Vancouver on Tuesday after completing his second season at Ohio State University, where he put up nine goals and 12 assists in 39 games this year.
In a corresponding move, the Canucks sent blue liner Jack Rathbone back to the Abbotsford Canucks of the American Hockey League on Thursday. He was recalled under emergency conditions on March 30 and saw action in three games for Vancouver.
Vancouver won all three meetings between the two sides this season. Thursday’s result followed a 5-2 victory at Rogers Arena on Jan. 24 and a 4-2 win in Chicago on March 26.
Canucks: Play their final home game of the season Saturday, hosting the Calgary Flames.
Blackhawks: Visit the Kraken in Seattle on Saturday.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2023.
Gemma Karstens-Smith, The Canadian Press