‘He was amazing’: Markstrom shines as Flames blank Blackhawks before break

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You shouldn’t need your goaltender to steal two points against a last-place opponent that hasn’t won a road game in two-and-a-half months.

But, hey, it beats the alternative.

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If not for Jacob Markstrom, you could be reading right now about a fifth consecutive loss for the Calgary Flames as they hit their all-star break/bye.

Instead, the stalwart netminder singlehandedly snapped the Flames out of their skid, pitching a 32-save shutout Saturday in a 1-0 slump-buster against the Chicago Blackhawks.   

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“I thought there were six or seven guys that came to play, and that’s not enough on a normal night,” said Flames head coach Ryan Huska. “Our goaltender, thankfully, was one of them. I thought he was amazing.”

“Without Marky, we probably would have lost this game,” echoed defenceman Rasmus Andersson. “He was outstanding, but we shouldn’t be too happy with this game either way. We didn’t play our best. It was a tricky one, for sure. It’s a good thing that Marky and a few other guys were dialled in, because a lot of us weren’t.”

After blanking the Blackhawks, the Flames split for their beach vacations. For the players, this next week is all about rest and relaxation.

This unnecessary nail-biter won’t quiet the talk around Calgary about another sort of R n’ R — a rebuild and/or retool. They certainly didn’t look like playoff contenders as they sputtered to a 2-4 mark on a six-game homestand.

The Blackhawks, who are still without rising-star Connor Bedard due to a broken jaw and have now lost 20 in a row in road rinks, were credited Saturday with more shots and more high-danger scoring chances.

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There was some debate in the press-box about how many breakaways Markstrom had faced. This reporter counted four or five.

Those all-alone chances were a recurring theme during the Flames’ four-game skid, too.

“Obviously, they have some fast guys and got some bounces,” Markstrom shrugged during a post-game interview. “The previous few games, I haven’t been able to stop them, so it was for sure a little frustrating not to help the team out. And today I was able to, so that was good. But the guys played good.”

Not really.

Certainly not many of them.

“You look at our last number of games, and we’ve gotten leaky,” said Huska, whose squad is now sitting at 22-22-5. “I think there’s a little mental fatigue. So this break is coming at the right time for our team.

“But they found a way to win when things haven’t been going our direction over the last while. There are situations where you need your leaders to be your best players. I mentioned those seven guys. Well, a lot of them make up our leadership group.”

Huska also praised defence partners Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, who combined to play 51 minutes against the Blackhawks, and complimented Mikael Backlund and his typically trustworthy linemates Blake Coleman and Andrew Mangiapane.

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But there was no doubt who was deserving of the loudest shout-out — the man who had just notched his 20th career shutout.

“Marky stole the two points for us,” said Elias Lindholm, who capitalized on a second-period power-play, snapping out of a 15-game goal drought in his final outing before he represents the Flames at the NHL All-Star Game. “This last stretch has been tough. Our game hasn’t been good enough. When we play at home, we want to play well, play good in front of our fans, and obviously we haven’t given them good reason to be here.

“It’s nice to get two points today. Hopefully, everyone can refresh, reload and come back better.”

They’ll certainly need to be much better than they were Saturday.

You shouldn’t need to be bailed out against a bottom-feeder.

But you know what would be worse? Skating into a break with another loss to the Blackhawks, a squad that has recently had their number. If Boris Katchouk had scored Saturday on both of his breakaways, the visitors would have been celebrating their first road victory since Nov. 9.

“Obviously, you want to put on a better performance for your goalie, but he was dialled in,” Andersson said of Markstrom. “He played an outstanding game. Sometimes, you need your goalie to steal a game, and today was a perfect example of that.”

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