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Demko closer, Lekkerimaki possible as Canucks consider lineup changes

Vancouver Canucks goalie Thatcher Demko skates to the corner during a stoppage in play during the second period in Game 1 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators in Vancouver on April 21, 2024. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck

Canucks head coach Rick Tocchet says Thatcher Demko has “improved immensely the last 72 hours” as the all-star goaltender works his way back from a lower-body injury.

The 28-year-old started Vancouver’s playoff opener against the Nashville Predators, but hasn’t suited up since.

Vancouver has turned to third-string rookie Arturs Silovs in the post-season after backup Casey DeSmith was hurt in Game 3 against the Predators.

Silovs, who is 4-3 in the playoffs with a .907 save percentage and a 2.71 goals-against average, led the Canucks a victory in that series and has been solid against the Oilers in the second round.

That matchup is tied 2-2 after Edmonton’s 3-2 victory on home ice Tuesday. Game 5 of the best-of-seven showdown goes Thursday in Vancouver.

Tocchet, who is considering lineup changes after ripping some of his roster’s effort in Game 5, didn’t commit to Demko playing against the Oilers, but told reporters Wednesday the Vezina Trophy finalist has made “big strides” in recent days.

Tocchet wasn’t happy with the performances of “five or six guys” — including star centre Elias Pettersson — in the aftermath of Tuesday’s loss that evened the Pacific Division matchup.

And the Canucks’ top prospect might be the beneficiary.

Tocchet didn’t shoot down the notion that Swedish winger Jonathan Lekkerimaki could be an option Thursday in what would be his NHL debut.

“I’m swinging the bat. I’m not scared,” Tocchet said. “I don’t know much about him … you’ve got to get your intel.”

Selected with the 15th pick at the 2022 NHL draft, the 19-year-old put up 19 goals and 32 points in 49 combined games with Orebro HK of Sweden’s top division this season.

Lekkerimaki also scored seven times and added three assists on home soil at the 2024 world junior hockey championship to earn MVP honours as part of his country’s silver-medal finish.

He got a first taste of North American pro hockey during a six-game stint with the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks in late March and early April that saw him pick up a goal and an assist.

The five-foot-11 forward returned to Sweden last month in hopes of making his nation’s world championship roster, but was among the final cuts.

Lekkerimaki’s last competitive game was April 7.

“If we feel as an organization he’s (ready), I’ve got no problem at all,” Tocchet said. “I’m not scared to put somebody in. When you’re close to achieving something, which is trying to get to the next round, you’ll do whatever. That’s the way it is.

“You can’t play safe if you want to win. You’ve got to go for it.”

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