‘We let him down’: Flames waste Markstrom’s big performance

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

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

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Yes, Calgary’s preferred goalie is in that kind of rhythm.

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

Echoed by defenseman MacKenzie Weegar, who assisted with four blocked shots: “I think that game could have gotten a little out of hand if he hadn’t been there for us.”

Carry on, coach.

Well said, Weegs.

Markstrom, who faced multiple breakaways, racked up 39 saves in what was both a sharp and tough performance. He apparently had a lot of energy after climbing the stone steps made famous by the Rocky Balboa movies on Friday.

At the third-period whistle, not very happy about being cut off while smothering a rebound, the Swedish stalwart even landed a punch with his trapper.

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

The problem is that the Flames botched a layup on the ensuing power play, and Travis Konecny’s short shot proved to be the game winner.

“Tough loss,” Markstrom complained. “Three goals against are too many. Unfortunately I couldn’t keep the tie in the third game.”

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He is the reason everything was tied up until that moment.

The Flames were looking for a fourth straight win Saturday, but instead fell back to .500 at 17-17-5.

They were solid in the first period.

Despite a breakaway from Jonathan Huberdeau and after a career-best ninth of the season for Weegar, they were mostly under siege in the second, hopefully being tied after 40 minutes. Shots in that middle frame were 24-10 in favor of the home team, with two Philadelphia goals coming off a Morgan Frost rebound and a cheeky bank shot by Sean Couturier.

And in the third, the Flames failed to reward their netminder for keeping them in it. Noah Hanifin ticked it off with just under seven minutes left, but it didn’t count because Connor Zary had just been arrested for interference, guilty of a firm push that sent 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 defenseman Nick DeSimone (left) and forward Yegor Sharangovich at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia on Saturday, Jan. 6, 2024. Photo by Derik Hamilton /The Associated Press

In the home area, Carter Hart needed to make just 22 saves to secure the victory.

Huska was blunt in his post-match evaluation: “The first period was good, but I thought we worked harder in the second and third.”

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Except for one boy.

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

“Marky was great,” Andrew Mangiapane agreed during a postgame interview on Sportsnet 960 The Fan. “He’s been incredible this whole season, really, and we’re going to need him. He is a great goalie in this league. He makes big saves in key moments and that’s huge for us.

“I think we let him down today. Hopefully, in their next outing, we will be better.”

Markstrom will likely be a spectator as the Flames conclude this four-game road trip with Sunday’s matchup 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 wild card race, especially since they should be shopping their future free agents before the trade deadline. But if they do manage to clinch a playoff berth, Markstrom will be a big part of it. He is the backbone of what has to be a tight-fisted group.

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

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

“Since he came back from his injury, he has certainly been our most consistent player,” Huska agreed. “Every night he played, he gave us a chance to win. Today there was nothing different.”

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