VANCOUVER — A team desperate to prove themselves can be dangerous and the Vancouver Canucks fought their way to a two-game sweep over the NHL-leading Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Canucks also had solid goaltending to back them up.
“When you only score two goals, the games are fragile and you have take care of them,” Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following a 4-2 loss to the Canucks at Rogers Arena on Saturday.
Thatcher Demko made 37 saves for the Canucks and continued to show the flashes of brilliance that helped Vancouver reach the second round of the NHL Playoffs bubble last summer.
Demko made 31 saves in a 3-1 against the Leafs in the first game of the series on Thursday.
Toronto held a 2-1 lead after two periods and looked prime to escape Vancouver with a split. When Demko wasn’t shutting the door on Toronto, specials teams took care of the rest.
William Nylander received a delay-of-game penalty for clearing the puck over the glass at 7:15 of the third period.
The Canucks, who scored on their other power play, cashed in when Bo Horvat deflected Brock Boeser’s shot from the point past Frederik Andersen at 8:49.
J.T. Miller scored 42 seconds later when he picked up a rebound from Boeser’s initial shot that got caught in Morgan Rielly’s legs.
Nils Hoglander capped a string of three unanswered goals for the Canucks with a top-shelf bullet that beat Andersen at 16:53.
“Vancouver plays four lines very competitive; they don’t give you anything for free,” Keefe said. “We just weren’t good enough in the details of our game and staying with it all the way through.”
Boeser led the way with a goal and two assists. The Leafs fell behind early when he scored his 13th goal of the season on the power play at 4:39 of the first period.
The Canucks, bolstered by the confidence in their goalie, played up high when in their own zone (they were in their own zone a lot in the opening period) and forced Toronto to go wide. That’s when John Tavares unloaded a slapshot from the wide part of the circle to beat Demko at 15:56 that tied the game 1-1.
It was Tavares’ third even-strength goal of the season. Nylander and Tavares combined for five goals and four assists on the road trip, a step up from their earlier struggles this season.
“As you play you continue to get a good feel for one another and create more time and space,” Tavares said.
Toronto scored the only goal of the second period, despite being outshot 14-11 and losing the expected-goals battle at 43 percent. Jimmy Vesey scored his third goal in three games when TJ Brodie pinched on a rush and found Vesey at 3:04.
His production as of late will likely keep him in the lineup for the foreseeable future. Vesey started the road trip practicing as an extra forward, but managed to hang on to his spot on the fourth line for the trip’s duration.
When Toronto trailed by a goal in the third period, they were relentless at the net. One instance saw the leafs fire five shot attempts between 14:06 and 15:02. Vancouver blocked four of them before Demko stopped Nylander’s slapshot from 37 feet away.
Toronto finished 3-2-0 on the road trip out west. They looked like kings of the league after sweeping a surging Edmonton Oilers team, while they dropped a pair of games against a team facing heavy scrutiny near the bottom of the NHL’s North Division.
“I think that we have to take responsibility for what happened in terms of those two losses,” Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “We have to look in the mirror; it’s not pointing the finger at the other team saying, ‘wow, what a great job,’ but it’s us to be in control of the game, how we play and how we compete.”
The Leafs dropped back-to-back games in regulation for the first time this season with an 18-6-2 record. The Canucks (11-15-2) served a reminder that Toronto’s success isn’t automatic.
“We had an opportunity to make this a real great trip and we only made it a good one,” Tavares said.
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