The Calgary Flames will be heading to Game 7 in their first-round series against the Dallas Stars, and while the Flames offense has scuffled at times, there has been one consistent bright spot for the Flames. Behind all of the high-powered offensive weapons that the Flames possess has been Jacob Markstrom.
One of the NHL’s best goalies who was just named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy has been quietly overlooked throughout the series. Much of this is due to the sheer volume of shots that his counterpart, Stars youngster Jake Oettinger, has had to face from the Flames offense, but Markstrom has matched him every step of the way.
Making the First Save
Through the first four games, Markstrom saved 99 out of 104 Dallas shots, good for a .952 save percentage (SV%). His goals against average (GAA) sat at a sterling 1.27, and in his “worst” outing in Game 3, he only allowed three goals before an empty-net tally made the final score 4-1.
Markstrom has been impressive all season long, but his calming steadiness in-between the pipes, while the Flames were being frustrated by Oettinger on the other end, was vitally important to keeping the Flames afloat. What makes his performance even more impressive when examined closer, is how some of the goals he has allowed in the first four games have been as a result of poor coverage on rebounds by the Flames defense.
Joe Pavelski scored two goals in the Game 3 Stars win, and both came off of difficult rebound chances where Markstrom made the initial save, but Pavelski was allowed to quickly collect the rebound. The first came after Pavelski was allowed to spin off of Rasmus Andersson in front of the net and slide the puck in before Markstrom was able to reset. Just before this play transpired, Markstrom made what many are considering to be one of the saves of the playoffs thus far, when he slid across and stacked the pads to stone Miro Heiskanen.
The second Pavelski goal came on the power play when the Stars forward was allowed a clear lane directly to the front of the net and deposit an easy one with no Flames around him. While these are only two examples, Markstrom has made it hard to find any examples of others, a testament to his strong play.
Keep Calm and Carry on
Game 5 was where all of these elements came together, as Markstrom rebounded from letting in a Jason Robertson goal in the middle of the second period, regrouping and holding down the fort as the Flames ramped up the offensive pressure. They were eventually able to pot three consecutive goals in the third, giving them a 3-1 win and a 3-2 series lead.
Markstrom once again showed that he is a calming influence behind his team. If he lets in another goal in the second period while the score was still 1-0, there is a chance the Flames get too aggressive and allow the Stars to pull away. Markstrom’s steadiness has allowed his team to find their game if they don’t come out firing right away, and it has become vital to Calgary’s success. While he isn’t facing a large volume of shots from a Stars team who has focused primarily on the defensive side of the puck, he is still making the saves he has to, and giving the team in front of him confidence that he can cover for some of their mistakes.
In Game 6, Markstrom was once again let down by the team in front of him, only allowing three goals on 39 shots before an empty-net goal gave the Stars a 4-2 victory. Neither goaltender in this series has blinked. Both continue to put up impressive stat lines, but Markstrom’s continued calming influence that has been present throughout the season allows the Flames to still be in a series where they have scored just 12 goals in six games.
If the Vezina candidate can continue his play, the Flames will have a great chance to close out the Stars and move on to the second round.
Jacob is a Flames writer who has been covering hockey at both the collegiate and NHL levels for the last 8 years, and is a graduate of Western University.