demko injury update

VANCOUVER -- Thatcher Demko isn’t sure if he will return this weekend, but the Vancouver Canucks’ No. 1 goalie is confident he will be ready for the Stanley Cup Playoffs after missing almost five weeks with a knee injury. 

Demko took part in his first full practice Thursday since leaving a game against the Winnipeg Jets on March 9 and said afterward that his initial target date for a return was Tuesday against the Calgary Flames. But coach Rick Tocchet said Demko is ahead of schedule, and the Canucks play at the Edmonton Oilers on Saturday with a four-point lead on them for the Pacific Division lead and two games in hand. 

“At this point I honestly don't know,” Tocchet said of the possibility of Demko playing at Edmonton.

Demko, who has missed 13 games, said Tuesday might be more likely. 

“Our goal since pretty much close to Day One was to get back to the Calgary game,” he said. “Obviously I do feel good right now, but I think the timeline we've kind of been trying to follow and pushing for has been the Calgary game.” 

That would give Demko two regular-season games before the playoffs – they play their regular-season finale at the Winnipeg Jets on April 18, and the playoffs begin April 20 -- but he said that is enough time to get back up to speed. 

“Totally. I've played close to 50 games this year and that was a month ago,” Demko said. “It’s not like coming off the offseason where you haven't played a game in 3-4 months and then trying to get it back. I feel pretty much right where I was when I went down and I'm excited to get back in the net for some games.” 

Demko was among the NHL’s best goalies this season before the injury. 

He was selected to the 2024 NHL All-Star Game, which was held Feb. 3 in Toronto, then was named the NHL's Third Star of the week two days after being injured, after going 3-0-0 with a 0.81 goals-against average and .969 save percentage in three games the previous week. Demko is 34-13-2 in 49 games this season and was leading the NHL in wins when he was sidelined.

More than a month later, Demko entered Thursday still tied for fourth in the NHL in wins. Among goalies who had played at least 25 games, he was tied for fourth in save percentage (.917) and sixth in GAA (2.47), and he was tied for third with five shutouts. 

“One of the best goalies in the League, and to get him back is a big boost for us,” defenseman Tyler Myers said. “Obviously he’s a big-time part of our team.”

Demko didn’t want to entertain a question about possibly benefitting from the time off, saying he just wants to play. But when he was injured he was third in the NHL in games (49) and ice time (2896:09) and fourth in shots faced (1,427), and Tocchet has suggested the rest might do him some good in playoffs. 

The coach has no doubt that Vancouver will be better with Demko back. 

“He's our rock. When he does come back obviously it instills confidence,” Tocchet said. “He's just dialed in. I've never seen him happier because I think him dealing with whatever he had, it's boosted his confidence level. I really believe that.”

Casey DeSmith started the first seven games after Demko was injured, but Arturs Silovs has played four of the past six. DeSmith has gone 3-5-1 with a 2.98 GAA and .882 save percentage since then, and Silovs is 3-0-1 with a 2.47 GAA and .881 save percentage. Tocchet wasn’t sure if Silovs would start a third straight game in Edmonton if Demko doesn’t play. 

Demko is 115-80-17 with a 2.80 GAA, .912 save percentage and eight shutouts in 217 regular-season games (211 starts) since being selected by Vancouver in the second round (No. 36) of the 2014 NHL Draft. He is 2-1 with a .985 save percentage in four playoff games (three starts), all in 2020, and feels good about his pending return. 

“Super confident,” Demko said. “We've been working around the clock. A lot of these days the last four weeks have been double (rehabilitation) sessions coming in. I appreciate the [medical] staff that's been around me, kind of matching my focus level and my determination to get back, and obviously it takes a village. We're in a great spot right now and I feel very fortunate to be in the position I'm in right now. I'm excited to get back and see what games I can play.”