‘He’s our best player’: With rumours swirling, Markstrom brilliant for Flames against Bruins

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How does Nazem Kadri feel about Jacob Markstrom? Kadri, moments after notching Thursday’s overtime winner, described Markstrom as the “backbone” of the Calgary Flames.

How does Oliver Kylington feel about the stalwart netminder? He referred to his fellow Swede as “our best player” and added: “You don’t win many games in the league if you don’t have a goalie like that.”

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How were the Saddledome fans feeling about Markstrom? Midway through this battle with the Boston Bruins, some were chanting his name.

After a 3-2 overtime triumph, made possible by a hat-trick of clutch saves from the 34-year-old Markstrom in the sudden-death session, Flames head coach Ryan Huska was asked to sum up what No. 25 means to his team.

“Everything,” he replied. “He’s elite. He is an elite goaltender. He gives us a chance to win every time he’s in the net.

“We think the world of him. We really do.”

Word is, the New Jersey Devils think the world of him too. Their rumoured pursuit of Markstrom has been big news as the NHL’s trade deadline approaches.

Nights like Thursday make you stop and think … Trade Markstrom? Really?!? Is that a wise move for a team that is aiming for a retool and not a total teardown?

Sure, you’d be selling high on a 30-something, and yeah you’re excited about what the future could hold for prized puck-stopping prospect Dustin Wolf, but don’t forget that No. 1 goaltenders don’t exactly grow on trees. Not in this climate.

Jacob Markstrom, Pavel Zacha
Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom stops Boston Bruins forward Pavel Zacha at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

Markstrom was, as has so often been the case during the 2023-24 campaign, terrific Thursday as the Flames bested the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins for the second time in less than three weeks.

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Although he gifted the visitors a first-period goal with a flubbed clearing attempt, he more than made amends during a 31-save show-off. In overtime, he robbed Charlie McAvoy and then Jesper Boqvist and then David Pastrnak. While Markstrom was bang-on with his assessment that the Flames “played a really solid game and deservedly got the two points,” it might have been a different ending if not for his heroics.

Immediately after he slammed the door on Pastrnak, his pals headed the opposite direction on an odd-man-rush and Kadri called game with a glove-side snipe.

“I was exhausted by the end of that (overtime). Just an absolute track meet,” said Kadri, who also assisted on a first-period strike by rookie linemate Martin Pospisil. “Probably fun for you guys to watch, I’m sure. Fun for us to watch, too, but nice to come out on the proper side of that one. Marky made some great saves for us and gave us an opportunity to go cash in.

“When you see him battle like that, it makes you want to push even a little bit harder for him. So it’s good to see everyone rallied. Great two points.”

The Flames remain just three points out of the final wildcard slot in the Western Conference.

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That can’t, and won’t, sidetrack general manager Craig Conroy as he fields trade offers for both dudes on his second defence pairing. Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev, pending unrestricted free agents this summer, will soon be swapped to the highest bidders.

Calgary Flames vs. Boston Bruins
Calgary Flames forward Martin Pospisil (76) celebrates his goal on Boston Bruins goalie Linus Ullmark at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

Markstrom, however, is signed for two more seasons at a reasonable AAV of US$6 million. In his current groove, you can look at it two ways — either that he is preventing the Flames from the highest possible draft pick, or that he could prevent this from getting ugly.

While there are fans on either side of the debate, and understandably so, it’s obvious that every guy in the locker-room is hoping that ‘Marky’ is still on the roster on March 9, once the wheeling-and-dealing is done.

According to Evolving Hockey, the Flames’ workhorse ranks second in the league in goals saved above expected, with 30. How many wins does that equal?

“Like Naz said, he’s the backbone of this team,” stressed Kylington, who has now scored in consecutive contests and also contributed a couple of gutsy shot-blocks on the penalty-kill against the Bruins. “He’s our best player. He bails us out. You saw that in the second and in the third and in overtime. You don’t win many games in the league if you don’t have a goalie like that. For us, we love him. He’s a big part of our team.”

Sure is.

But for how long?

“That’s what all great teams have — they have a guy in the crease who can make some timely saves,” Kadri said. “To win a championship, to win a playoff games, to win playoff series, you need timely saves and you need timely goals. And we saw both of those tonight.”

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Calgary Flames vs. Boston Bruins
Calgary Flames forward Dryden Hunt battles Boston Bruins defenceman Charlie McAvoy at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. Photo by Darren Makowichuk /Postmedia

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