‘We let him down’: Flames waste strong performance from Markstrom, fall to Flyers

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Perhaps, Jacob Markstrom was inspired by a team outing the previous afternoon to the Rocky statue, one of Philadelphia’s iconic landmarks.

He’s the reason that the Calgary Flames had even a fighting chance to win this feisty, penalty-filled affair at Wells Fargo Center. If he continues to play like he has since returning from a fractured finger, like he did during Saturday’s 3-2 loss to the Flyers, he could give them a fighting chance in the wildcard race.

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Yeah, Calgary’s go-to goalie is in that sort of groove.

As Flames bench boss Ryan Huska told reporters in Philly: “Jacob was the reason why this game was close.”

Echoed top-pairing defenceman MacKenzie Weegar, who helped out with four blocked shots: “That game, I think, could have gotten a little out of hand if he wasn’t there for us.”

Bang on, coach.

Well said, Weegs.

Markstrom, who faced multiple breakaways, racked up 39 saves in what was both a sharp and scrappy performance. He apparently had plenty of pep after Friday’s climb up the stone steps made famous by the Rocky Balboa movies.

At a third-period whistle, none-too-pleased about being slashed as he smothered a rebound, the Swedish stalwart even landed a punch with his trapper.

Garnet Hathaway, who caused that kerfuffle at the crease and certainly wasn’t shying away from a shoving match with Markstrom, was called for roughing.

Trouble is, the Flames botched an entry on the ensuing power-play, and Travis Konecny’s shorthanded snipe stood as the game-winner.

“Tough loss,” Markstrom groaned. “Three goals against is a few too many. Unfortunately, I couldn’t keep it a tie game there in the third.”

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He’s the reason it was tied up to that point.

The Flames were aiming Saturday for a fourth consecutive victory, but they instead stumbled back to .500 at 17-17-5.

They were solid in the opening period.

Despite a breakaway bury by Jonathan Huberdeau and then a career-best ninth notch of the season for Weegar, they were mostly under siege in the second, lucky to be even after 40 minutes. The shots in that middle frame were 24-10 in favour of the home side, with Philadelphia’s two tallies coming on a rebound by Morgan Frost and a cheeky bank-shot from Sean Couturier.

And in the third, the Flames failed to reward their netminder for keeping them in it. Noah Hanifin did tickle twine with just under seven minutes remaining, but it didn’t count because Connor Zary had just been busted for interference, guilty of a firm shove that spilled Nick Seeler to the ice as he defended the slot.

Calgary Flames vs. Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia Flyers forward Owen Tippett skates for the puck between Calgary Flames defenceman Nick DeSimone (left) and forward Yegor Sharangovich at Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. Photo by Derik Hamilton /The Associated Press

In the home crease, Carter Hart needed to deliver only 22 saves to secure the win.

Huska was blunt in his post-game assessment — “The first period was OK, but I thought in the second and third, we got outworked.”

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Except for one guy.

“Marky was battling for us that whole game,” Weegar told media at Wells Fargo Arena.

“Marky was great,” agreed Andrew Mangiapane during a post-game interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “He has been unbelievable this whole season, really, and we’re going to need him. He’s a great goaltender in this league. He makes big stops at key times, and that’s huge for us.

“I think we let him down today. Hopefully, in his next start, we’ll be better.”

Markstrom will likely be spectating as the Flames wrap this four-game road-trip with Sunday’s showdown against the Chicago Blackhawks in the Windy City (1 p.m. MT Sportsnet West/Sportsnet 960 The Fan). In a back-to-back scenario, Dan Vladar is the best bet to be between the pipes against the Blackhawks, who will be without rookie sensation Connor Bedard due to a broken jaw.

Some roll their eyes when the Flames talk about the wildcard race, especially since they should be shopping their soon-to-be free agents prior to the trade deadline. But if they are able to punch a playoff ticket, Markstrom will be a big part of it. He’s the backbone for what needs to be a stingy bunch.

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In seven starts since a two-week injury layoff, Markstrom has posted a .935 save percentage and 2.03 goals-against average. One of the challenges is managing the rest for a guy who will turn 34 later this month and would rather never take a night off.

“He’s been a brick wall for us,” Weegar said after Saturday’s loss in Philly. “The whole time since he’s come back, he’s been outstanding for us. He was definitely our best player today.”

“Since he’s come back from his injury, he has been our most consistent player, for sure,” Huska concurred. “Every night that he’s played, he’s given us a chance to win. There was nothing different today.”

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