Flames playoff fate could fall on Markstrom in critical back-to-back set

Apr 4 2023, 8:20 pm

The fate of the Calgary Flames could lie with Jacob Markstrom.

Markstrom, who is expected to start for the 17th time in the past 19 games when the Flames host the Chicago Blackhawks at Scotiabank Saddledome, could be doubling as the likely starter when Calgary hits the ice at Canada Life Centre to play the Winnipeg Jets in the season’s most critical skate.

And there’s no doubt who head coach Darryl Sutter plans on rolling with in crunch time.

“It’s like the last game of the year for us,” Sutter said. “Way different than anything else. Marky’s been really, really good for us for quite a while now. He’s earned that right, for sure.”

How dire is the two-game set?

The Flames currently sit two points back of the Jets for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference, with both teams having five games remaining and Winnipeg holding the tie-breakers.

Winning each end would launch Calgary from playoff hopeful into the driver’s seat.

Losing to the Jets, pending a win over the Blackhawks, would leave the Flames two back with three games to go.

Lose both, and it could be curtains for Calgary.

Understandable why Sutter would go to his starter.

Markstrom, who is sporting a 2.98 goals-against average and .890 save percentage in 55 games this season, has gone back-to-back on two occasions this season.

He allowed four goals on 32 shots in an overtime loss to the New York Islanders on November 7, before stopping 17 of 20 in a regulation loss at the New Jersey Devils on November 8. He also went back-to-back on March 6 and March 7, allowing four goals on 33 shots in a win at the Dallas Stars, before a 40-save shutout performance at the Minnesota Wild.

“Do your homework. You’ll see the last time he played back-to-backs, what he did. With travel,” Sutter said. “You’ve got to put all that into it.”

Markstrom is entering his latest back-to-back scenario having won his last three decisions, too, though he was pulled after allowing two goals on nine shots in 20 minutes of work in an eventual 5-4 win against the Anaheim Ducks on Monday.

But the 33-year-old’s 3.03 goals-against average and .895 save percentage since the start of March 1, coupled with his recent abrupt exit, has posed a query or two as to whether or not Markstrom has been overworked since Sutter declared an increase in crease time over a month ago.

Only Juuse Saros of the Nashville Predators has seen more minutes than Markstrom since that March 1 date. Saros sits at 894:16 with Markstrom, who has logged 851:28, set to pass him by Tuesday’s close.

No rest for the weary, with Nashville trying to close on Calgary and Winnipeg, and the Flames trying to shrink the gap on the Jets.

Which is why it sounds like Markstrom will log 120 more minutes in the next 24 hours.

“When it’s Game 7, you want your ace,” Sutter said.

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