Canucks vs. Predators: The challenge ahead for Casey DeSmith

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No longer the backup, Casey DeSmith is the man.

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Published Apr 24, 20244 minute read

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If you thought this was going to be easy… what were you thinking?

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This is playoff hockey. It’s hard.

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There are no easy steps.

The Vancouver Canucks are in it now.

They’ve mostly been the better team through two games, but in both games there have been reminders that the game is, fundamentally, about winning the little moments.

DeSmith is the man for the here and now

You had to feel for DeSmith, thrust into the limelight, getting all the support in the world — how great were the “let’s go Casey” chants from the fans off the start — only for Nashville to score on the cruellest of bounces, right off the top?

And for the longest time, that was the only shot against by Nashville.

For a normal human, all that might be disheartening.

I asked Corey Hirsch, who knows a thing or two about stepping into big games, about where DeSmith was at, both in that particular moment and in general.

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What are his emotions? In the end, he knows what the backup’s job is, be ready to play when called upon.

“You’re fine because you know your team can score. He’s a veteran guy. This is a huge opportunity for him. He shouldn’t be feeling the pressure in this game,” Hirsch, who played for the Canucks from 1995 to 1999, told me.

“Big picture. If I’m him I’m jacked at the chance. We all want to play.”

And that’s what he’s here to do. His chance is now.

The difference, though

DeSmith is, obviously, a very different goaltender to Demko.

Think of the save Demko made on Anthony Beauvillier in Game 1, the Predators winger took a pass from across the Vancouver defensive zone and Demko was only able to just get his leg on the shot.

Demko is big and lanky and extra athletic.

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DeSmith is obviously super athletic and a very accomplished goalie — but he’s not as big as Demko. Does he get to that Beauvillier shot? That’s just the reality of it: he’s not quite Demko.

And that’s what these games come down to, small moments. There’s a decent chance DeSmith still makes that save, but you know it’s not 100 per cent.

And in the small moments, those things add up.

Don’t be daft

There are people saying that maybe Demko should try to fight through his knee injury.

Given the knee is the most important joint a goalie has, I’d like to know what people expect his performance to be like if he can’t bend it properly.

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Feeling lucky?

“That third period is not a recipe we want to repeat for the rest of the series,” Filip Forsberg said after the game.

In the end, the mood from Nashville was one of joyful relief. You take the wins when they come, but this was not one to be terribly satisfied about.

Yes, there’s honor in the pain you feel from blocking all those shots, but in the big picture, there’s the old saying from longtime Calgary Flames blogger Kent Wilson: blocking shots is like killing rats, doing it is preferable not to, but if you ‘re doing it all the time, you’ve got bigger problems.

You need the puck on your stick.

Predators coach Andrew Brunette was pretty frank in responding to a question about what he wants his team to focus on heading back to Nashville, having taken a win on the road.

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“I don’t like defending,” he said.

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He was disappointed in how they’ve played with the puck, he said. Sure, they’ve defended well, but you can only sit back so long, he indicated.

On offense, they need to find ways to break the Canucks’ defending better.

“We just need to be a little firmer, a little bit more connected. A little harder on pucks than we have been, because we want to play down there. We don’t want to defend,” he said.

Whither Höglander?

One last one: where’s Nils?

He played just 10 minutes in the first game, only 8:33 in game 2. He has no shots on goal.

He’s barely been a presence on the forecheck.

He was essentially benched in the third period of Game 2 as Rick Tocchet shortened his bench and went with the Lotto Line as his primary trio.

His center Elias Pettersson is playing with zero confidence, but Höglander’s complete disappearing act is an issue as well.

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