Flames' Markstrom returns to post big win over Tkachuk, Panthers

Goalie back from injury to make 33 saves in home victory

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The fingers are just fine.

The one that was fractured on the hand of Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom is better.

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And the many middle ones raised by fans in a still-smarting salute to Matthew Tkachuk were working well, too.

All totalled, they added up to Markstrom and the Flames counting a 3-1 win over Tkachuk and the Florida Panthers at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday evening.

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“Feels good,” Markstrom told reporters post-game after returning to the lineup from injury Sunday. “Obviously a big win for us, and it was nice to be back in there.

“But it’s a big win, especially with ‘Chucky’ in there, too. It’s a little bit more special.”

Indeed, it was Tkachuk’s second return to the Dome since being traded ahead of the 2022-23 NHL season in a blockbuster deal that brought both Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar to the Flames.

But the night also marked the return of Markstrom to the net after a hand injury took him out of the lineup for two weeks.

The ’tender came off injury reserve Sunday, after being hurt in practice in early December, and promptly made 33 saves in the victory — helped along by backhand goals from both Martin Pospisil and captain Mikael Backlund — over the visiting Panthers.

Markstrom’s best save came just a minute after Backlund scored the winner — short-handed — early in the third period, getting his paddle down on a puck that got slightly behind him to swat it away before former teammate Sam Bennett could knock home the loose puck. It came seconds after Tkachuk fed the point for the shot that created the near-goal.

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And Markstrom was at it again in the final two minutes, when he turned away both Tkachuk and Bennett — on back-to-back chances in the goal-crease — during a power-play flurry by the Panthers to try to tie the game.

Martin Pospisil, Anthony Stolarz
Calgary Flames forward Martin Pospisil scores against Florida Panthers goaltender Anthony Stolarz at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. Photo by Larry MacDougal /The Canadian Press

Instead, the goalie and the Flames absorbed the late push and went the other way for another short-handed goal — this time Blake Coleman being awarded an empty-netter after he was tripped by Brandon Montour on a breakaway. It was Coleman’s 10th on the year.

“It was good,” said Markstrom of his finger. “Or else I wouldn’t have been out there if I felt like it was going to affect the play.

“You just try to focus on not to feel so much and just focus on the puck and not on how your body feels. So that was pretty much all I thought about the whole game. It ended up being easy to block (the finger) out and focus on the puck.”

He also got big help from teammates selling out and blocking chances, especially late.

“I feel like that’s nothing new for today’s game,” Markstrom said. “It’s been like that all year. It’s inspiring, and it gets you going, for sure.”

The decision boosted the Flames to within one game of .500 at 13-14-5 and — more importantly — one point back of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.

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Meanwhile, the Cats, who are firmly entrenched in an Eastern Conference post-season position, dropped to 18-11-2.

Connor Zary, Gustav Forsling
Calgary Flames forward Connor Zary and Florida Panthers defenceman Gustav Forsling battle at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Monday, Dec. 18, 2023. Photo by Leah Hennel /Getty Images

Pospisil’s goal started the scoring 8:45 into the contest, when he flipped a slick backhand past Panthers second-string goalie Anthony Stolarz. The goal came off a Flames’ odd-man rush, with Pospisil keeping and scoring far side for his fourth of the season.

Thirty seconds before the end of the first period — and with just one second remaining in a power play — the Panthers answered back on a goal by Sam Reinhart. The veteran jumped on a rebound in tight — after Tkachuk redirected Sasha Barkov’s shot — and fired the puck high over Markstrom.

But nobody scored again until the final frame, when Backlund raced away on another Cats power play, pulling away from Reinhart and freezing Stolarz with a nifty move before shelving a wicked backhand. It was teammate Noah Hanifin with a quick transition pass to the fast-breaking Backlund for his 17th career short-handed tally — second-most in team history — and seventh goal of any kind on the campaign.

“We battled hard, and Marky was great,” Backlund told Sportsnet of his team and the goalie that missed seven games with the broken digit.

“He stood on his head, especially in that second period, too,” added the captain. “He kept us in the game. Without him, it wouldn’t have been a tie game going into the third. He carried that (second-period performance) over into the third. So a big comeback for him.”

The Flames, now with two straight wins and points in each of the last four games, next play the host Anaheim Ducks on Thursday night in Southern California (8 p.m., Sportsnet West).

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