Canucks fall in shootout to Panthers as Spencer Martin shines in goal, awarded game's first star

The emergency call-up from Abbotsford played his last NHL game almost five years ago

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      It was as close as one could come to a storybook ending for a minor-league hockey player given a last-minute ticket to prove himself in The Show.

      The Vancouver Canucks' emergency call-up goaltender, Spencer Martin, stopped all but one shot from the league powerhouse Florida Panthers before losing 2-1 in a shootout Friday night (January 21).

      It was the Canucks' first game at Rogers Arena since December 14, after the NHL postponed seven of the team's home games due to pandemic arena-capacity restrictions. 

      Martin, whom the Canucks obtained from Tampa Bay last year for future considerations, had only played in three NHL games before Friday, with his last one taking place with the Colorado Avalanche almost five years ago.

      The 'keeper with the Canucks' newly minted AHL affiliate Abbotsford Canucks made 33 saves through three periods and overtime.

      In the shootout, Panthers skaters Anton Lundell and Aleksander Barkov solved Martin, but only Brock Boeser could beat 20-year-old rookie Spencer Knight between the pipes for Florida.

      Martin was named the game's first star after helping his team earn a point on the night, despite the loss.

      Knight, who blocked 27 shots from Vancouver during three periods and overtime, received the third star.

      But it was the 6-3 Oakville, Ontario, native who was the story of the game Friday night, having been summoned to Vancouver by the Canucks after all-star goalie Thatcher Demko tested positive for COVID-19 just days after backup goaltender Japoslav Halak did the same during the team's last U.S. road trip.

      One factor that had some pundits predicting doom for the Canucks Friday was the fact that three of the team's top four scorers—J.T. Miller, captain Bo Horvat, and Conor Garland—were all in the NHL's COVID-19 protocol.

      Vancouver also had to summon 22-year-old minor-leager Michael DiPietro from the AHL to back up Martin, 26, who was drafted by the Avalanche in 2013.

      After the game, Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau praised his taxi-squad 'keeper. "I love when American League players that have played there for a while get opportunities and show what they can do," he said. "For Spencer to come in and play a game like that against, I think, the highest-scoring team in the league, I thought it was really impressive."

      Canucks defenceman Tyler Myers, answering a postgame question from Sportsnet's Iain Macintyre, described Martin's performance as "awesome". "I thought he had an unbelievable game for us, stepped up for us, and it was great to see. You know, to see a story like that, it was pretty cool."

      Alex Chiasson opened the scoring for the Canucks in the first period with his fourth goal of the season on a power play. A Quinn Hughes shot from the high slot deflected off Tanner Pearson before striking Chiasson in the arm and beating Knight. The assist gave Hughes his team-leading 30th helper.

      There was no scoring in the middle period, then Florida forward and West Vancouver native Sam Reinhart notched his 12th tally of the year, also on a power play, less than two minutes into the final stanza. Winger Jonathan Huberdeau's tic-tac-toe deflection pass gave the Panthers top scorer a league-leading 40 assists in 41 games.

      Things stayed knotted through the rest of the third, with the Canucks being outshot 12-9, and nothing changed in overtime, when the home team was badly outskated and only managed one shot to Florida's four.

      After his Friday showing, Martin should get the call to start on Sunday (January 23) against the St. Louis Blues, the second tilt in a three-game home stand that also sees the Edmonton Oilers visiting on Tuesday (January 25).

      Demko and Miller should be eligible to return to action against the Oilers after almost five complete days in protocol, but the other three players will not have finished their U.S.-mandated 10-day isolation period by then.