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Markstrom’s Return To Form Keeps Flames Playoff Hopes Alive

Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom looks like his old Vezina self in back-to-back wins over Dallas and Minnesota in stellar road trip that keeps their NHL playoff hopes alive.



If the Calgary Flames are going to do the unlikely and claw their way into the NHL playoffs this season, it’s been said Jacob Markstrom will have to be the team’s MVP over the final quarter of the season. 

So far, so good. Damn good. 

For whatever reason, Markstrom has struggled this year, even after finishing as the Vezina runner-up last season. Those up north will have you believe the Edmonton Oilers playoff series ‘broke’ him. Others have said he’s hit a wall at the age of 33, or that last year’s impressive performance was the real anomaly. My personal belief is that there were bigger things than hockey on his mind most days. 

But since his partner gave birth to their baby boy on Feb. 27, Markstrom has looked different on the ice. The laser focus is there. There’s a swagger we haven’t’ seen since the first round victory over the Dallas Stars last spring. 

Even in games the Calgary Flames lost against the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs last week, Markstrom was his team’s most impressive player. 

He’s stopped 211 of 222 shots in his last five appearances since Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter gave him a public vote of confidence and said he'd get the bulk of starts down the stretch.

With back-to-back wins in Dallas and Minnesota on Monday and Tuesday, Markstrom sure looks like he’s dialled in again. Those two wins brought the Calgary Flames to within four points of the Winnipeg Jets in the final wildcard spot in the Western Conference. 

On Tuesday, Markstrom made 40 saves in regulation and three out of four in the shootout (well, technically one was a miss) to earn his first shutout of the year — a 1-0 win over the Minnesota Wild

“You’re searching and you’re ttying to find your game and what works. You want to find the feeling, which is the tougher part, I think, the feeling and the confidence,” Markstrom said of his struggles while talking with Sportsnet’s Ryan Leslie on the post-game show. 

“Right now, I feel really good.”

Looks really good, too. 

He’s made one or two highlight-reel stops on a nightly basis the last week or so, and many of the Wild’s chances on Tuesday were of the high-danger variety. 

Markstrom was up to the challenge, which continued to a shootout when the Wild’s apparent overtime winner from Jared Spurgeon was ruled to be offside following a league review. 

Some of his teammates had already hit the locker-room ahead of their long flight home. Not Markstrom. He hung around the bench with Calgary Flames head coach Darryl Sutter and another handful of players hoping for another shot at the Wild, who beat the Flames 3-0 at the Saddledome on Saturday night. 

“I knew if I go in the locker-room I’ll be too upset, and too mad. I figured I’d stay on the bench and see what happened,” Markstrom said. “It’s good they review all the goals.

“We get another chance.”

They survived another minute and a half of overtime, and got clutch goals from both Nazem Kadri and then Tyler Toffoli to eke out the victory. Markstrom only allowed one goal against in the showdown, biting on a move by Freddie Gaudreau. 

Aside from that, he was nearly perfect on the night. 

“Honestly, I’m so happy for him. He’s just an incredible guy, great teammate. Obviously, the start of the year wasn’t his greatest and a lot of people were all over him for it. But I think he’s really stepped up — especially these last two games. Even before this he was keeping us in games that we weren’t winning,” said Toffoli, who has two clutch game-ending goals in a row. 

“I’m just happy for him and glad we could get him a win.”

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