The Vancouver Canucks plan to improve as they try to force a Game 7 in the Western Conference Second Round no matter who is in goal against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 6 on Thursday (9:45 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).
The Canucks staved off elimination Tuesday with a 2-1 win in Game 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the West hub city, but needed 42 saves from Thatcher Demko in his first Stanley Cup Playoff start with Jacob Markstrom unfit to play. Vancouver was outshot 43-17.
"I expect our team to play a better game tomorrow as far as with the puck and our skating," Canucks coach Travis Green said Wednesday. "I thought we weren't quite skating the way we could and we weren't great with the puck, and when those two are in our game it's usually a recipe for playing in your own zone."
Vancouver faces the prospect of back-to-back games, with Game 7 scheduled for Friday. Asked if he would change his approach if Markstrom is available now that Demko has started a playoff game, Green declined to comment on his goalies.
The Canucks have to get to Game 7 first anyway. To give themselves the best chance, they cannot come out as flat as they did in Game 5, when they were outshot 10-6 in the first period and 18-4 in the second.
"I didn't think we had our legs underneath us," Green said. "You could probably see during the game, there was a lot of different talking going on on the bench at different times. … We've got a good leadership group. Numerous times, we had different guys on the bench talking about that we had to get going, we've got to raise our game."
Vegas took a 1-0 lead at 15:12 of the second period on a gorgeous individual effort by defenseman Shea Theodore, who wove through three defenders and beat Demko high. But Vancouver responded 24 seconds later with a goal by forward Brock Boeser, and the players talked again during the second intermission.
"Basically after two periods we said, 'You know, we're not playing our best and it's still a tie hockey game,'" defenseman Tyler Myers said. "So we talked about, 'We just need 20 minutes. We've got to step it up. We've got to raise our level for 20 minutes.' And I thought we did. I thought we responded well in the third for not having a great first two."
Center Elias Pettersson scored the go-ahead goal on a deflection at 3:19 of the third period, and the Canucks held on even though they were outshot 15-7.
"Our group's resilient," Green said. "They didn't quit. They hung in there, they took some shots and then we found a way to win a hockey game. A pessimistic person can say we didn't respond. An optimistic person could say that, 'You know what? We responded in a way that we found a way to win a hockey game.' …
"Especially in playoff hockey, when you find a way to win a game that you probably shouldn't have, it's not just luck. It's compete. It's buying in as a group. It's blocking a shot. Obviously your goalie is a part of that, a big part of it. [Demko] was great last night."
Defenseman Oscar Fantenberg said the Canucks have to help their goalie a little more. That starts with not getting hemmed in the defensive zone. That starts with keeping the puck in the offensive zone.
"I think if we can get on them quicker, create some more stalls in their [defensive] zone, we'll have the puck more and that will eliminate a lot of the defending that we were doing, especially last night for the first 40 (minutes)," Myers said. "You know, they're a good hockey team. It's no secret. I think we're a good hockey team too. It's been a pretty tight series. Both teams are playing good hockey, and we've just got to get a little step quicker, try and create some stalls when they're trying to break the puck out."
The Golden Knights have outscored the Canucks 16-10 and outshot them 189-132 in the series. They have 298 shot attempts at 5-on-5 to the Canucks' 205.
But since Vegas' 5-0 win in Game 1, each team has won twice. The Golden Knights have scored 11 goals, the Canucks 10.
"Again, I say it a lot, I've got a lot of belief in our group," Green said. "They'll be ready to go tomorrow one way or the other. I'm not going to guarantee that they're going to play an unbelievable game, but they're going to be there to win it."