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Markstrom’s status key for playoff success

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Calgary Flames starting goaltender Jacob Markstrom

Rumours of Jacob Markstrom’s mishandling have been greatly exaggerated. But giving the Calgary Flames goaltender a single start this week will open to the door to outside comments.

Is he rested or rusty?

Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Wild may not provide the answer. Next week’s playoff series is really all that matters at this point. And head coach Darryl Sutter must have been misheard when he suggested last week he’ll hold Markstrom out of one of the last four. Instead, he’s putting him in the net for maybe just one more.

Unless, of course, he starts Markstrom again in the season finale in Winnipeg. Stranger things have happened.

“You want to manage Marky right, that’s for sure,” Sutter said last week. “The big thing there is you want him sharp. The worst thing that you can do is give goalies too much time off. It’s the worst thing.”

The 32-year-old has eclipsed his previous career high in minutes but is on track with the metrics Sutter had planned for him for the year.

“He’s had lots of breaks this year,” Sutter said after the Calgary Flames secured the Pacific Division title and home ice for the first two rounds last week. “You look at it for the season, with COVID, he had 17 days between games. Between a Florida game and an Ottawa game (in January), he had eight or nine days off. And the all-star break, he had seven days off. He’s had significant breaks in the schedule.

“So the key there is not that you gave him a break. The key is, was he sharp coming back? The next two weeks, you have to manage that properly. Because if he only plays one game in the next two weeks, is he going to be sharp? I went both ways with that. I’ve seen it.”

Which way it goes this time will be a major factor in how the Flames navigate what’s widely considered their best shot at a Stanley Cup since 2004. They also had Sutter at the helm that season. Netminder Miikka Kiprusoff was the X-factor in their unexpected run to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.

”The way you win a round is two things: you have to be healthy, and you have to have a goalie,” Sutter said. “That’s how you win a round, at the end of the day. Because the teams are so close once you’re in.”

Markstrom is undoubtedly the best goaltender the Flames have had since Kiprusoff.

The big Swede is a Vezina candidate who is among the league leaders in every netminding category. He leads the pack with nine shutouts and was top three in goals-against average (2.21) and fifth in save percentage (.922) before puck drop on Thursday.

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