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Lehner earns win over Markstrom, announces he won’t go to Olympics

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Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom

There was little doubt one of these guys would be suiting up as the starter for Sweden at the upcoming Olympics. The question was whether it would be Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom, or Vegas Golden Knights netminder Robin Lehner?

On Sunday night, it was Lehner who got the best of Markstrom – at least in the win column – earning a 3-2 victory in Vegas against the visiting Flames.

Lehner made 24 saves on the night. His most impressive had to be a skate-blade stop on fellow Swede Rasmus Andersson on a breakaway late in the third period. Lehner got an assist from defenceman Dylan Coghlan, who swept the puck away as it trickled toward the scoring side of the goal-line after bouncing from toe to post.

But it’s Markstrom who has had the more impressive season so far. Although he fell to 10-5-4 on the season, he entered the matchup with a 1.76 goals-against average and .939 save percentage. He leads the league with five shutouts, although nobody was expecting him to add to that number in Vegas, where the Calgary Flames have yet to win a game since the Golden Knights entered the league.

They managed to make it interesting in the end. Fellow Swede Elias Lindholm spoiled Lehner’s shutout halfway through the final period, banking a point shot past the man affectionately known as Panda. And shortly after Evgenii Dadonov scored on an odd-man rush on Markstrom, Andrew Mangiapane netted his league-leading 16th road goal to bring the visitors to within one again.

Matthew Tkachuk hit a crossbar in the final minute with an extra attacker out. The Flames just ran out of time.

Markstrom’s mental focus and competitive nature tough to match

Based on the conversation with a couple of Markstrom’s countrymen Sunday, it could take some time before anyone is allowed to talk to the Flames goaltender. Maybe not even until they get to San Jose for their final stop on the four-game road trip.

“If you win, we can talk to him right away and if we lose and he’s upset, you have to wait on the plane or even next day,” said Mikael Backlund after the morning skate.

Andersson also noted he has been given a talking timeout by his uber-competitive goaltender.

“You’ve got to be careful joking around with him too close to the game. I’m learning that. I try to mess around a little bit, but I try to leave him alone when he gets closer to games. You know he’s dialed in night in and night out,” Andersson said.

“Sometimes it’s in the morning so we can’t talk all day. Sometimes it’s right around five when we show up for a game. I’m trying to read him every day. Some days are better than not. I’ve gotten on the timeout side once or twice already. I told him he only has one timeout a year, though, so he’s already used his.

“I might give him another one. He actually got a shutout the night he gave me a timeout.”

Generally, Markstrom is a happy-go-lucky guy. Unlike some goalies, he’s chatty and funny with the media. And he is clearly beloved by his Calgary Flames teammates, for more than his prowess between the pipes.

His competitive nature and hatred for losses both register at elite levels. Which is why he seems like a sure thing for the majority of the work in Beijing. That’s assuming he’s healthy and that NHL players ultimately attend the Olympic Games.

Olympic dream on Markstrom’s mind but season more important

Markstrom talked earlier this season about what it would mean to be a part of the Olympics.

“It’s obviously a dream when you’re a kid to represent your country,” Markstrom said earlier this year. “Playing for the national team, that was the No. 1 dream, the No. 1 goal, when you played street hockey and played as a kid. I would love to represent my country and play there. But this season is so important, so when it happens, it happens.”

After Sunday’s game, Lehner was asked if he thought the win gave him the leg up on the competition and he replied that he turned down any potential invite to protect his mental health. He also noted the team would be in good hands with Markstrom.

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