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How Canucks can bounce back to win without Demko

Jeff Vinnick / NHL / Getty Images

On Feb. 16, the Vancouver Canucks led the NHL standings by a healthy margin as the three-quarter mark of the schedule neared. From that day forward, the Nashville Predators' scalding .768 points percentage topped the league. The Preds earned points in 18 straight games right after a sour stretch cost them a trip to U2's Las Vegas concert.

The unlikely turning point proved Nashville is dangerous, but Vancouver was better throughout the year for good reason. The Canucks' performance peaks when they assert advantages all over the ice, specifically in four segments of the lineup: goalie, No. 1 defenseman, one-two center punch, and the lower forward lines.

In net, Thatcher Demko's robbery of Anthony Beauvillier in the playoff opener signaled he was in rhythm following a long injury absence. The good vibes didn't last. Demko sat out the Canucks' 4-1 loss in Game 2 on Tuesday, reportedly with an injury to the same knee that was hurt before. He might not return this round, a potentially crippling blow.

Wobbly in relief, backup Casey DeSmith only faced 15 shots but was beaten on Beauvillier's wicked tip in the second minute, Filip Forsberg's slick roof job, and a rebound that Predators grinder Colton Sissons reached before Elias Pettersson. Juuse Saros' effort - some of his 17 stops were beauties - magnified the goaltending mismatch. The defensive wall in front of Saros blocked another 30 attempts in Nashville's workmanlike, series-knotting win.

Ethan Cairns / Icon Sportswire / Getty Images

Despite dominating possession, Vancouver noticeably wasn't sharp. Lateral passes designed to make Saros flail missed Canucks sticks and left the offensive zone. Cross-ice feeds to Pettersson on the power play fizzled out when he forced an extra pass on one scoring opportunity, then struck the side of the mesh on a one-timer.

Vancouver's 100-point centers - Pettersson cleared the milestone last season, and J.T. Miller did this year - combined for one assist and five shots on net through two home games. Pettersson's errant pass into his own zone handed Nashville possession before Sissons scored the backbreaker. Bluntly, Pettersson has to be smarter, and he needs to bury a chance soon.

Quinn Hughes solved Saros in Game 1. The 92-point dynamo received a low-high pass and instantly reversed the momentum, wiring a shot through bodies that Pius Suter grazed for the 2-2 goal. Hughes walked the line and fired 13 attempts in Game 2, but only three were on target. His head's in the right place.

Vancouver's tenacious third line swung the series opener. The strengths of big Dakota Joshua, feisty Conor Garland, and do-it-all center Elias Lindholm aligned on Joshua's game-winner, which became possible when Lindholm's strong forecheck helped Garland move the puck to the slot. The Canucks outscored teams 32-16 this season in Garland and Joshua's shared shifts, per Natural Stat Trick. They're always capable of tilting the ice.

Vancouver treaded water during Demko's last absence, winning seven of 14 games he missed. His .918 save percentage over 51 starts can't be replaced, but Adin Hill's fabled breakout showed backups can win rounds and championships with the right defensive support. DeSmith probably isn't Hill, but the Canucks have other answers to weather the storm.

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore.

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