Canucks confident Jacob Markstrom will return to form in playoff debut


EDMONTON – On Wednesday, after allowing three goals on the first 19 shots he faced in a standout loss to the Winnipeg Jets, Vancouver Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstrom said he felt sharper at the end of the match that he had done at the beginning, but that he still needed to work on his craft.

He wasn’t worried because he had three days to polish goalie guru Ian Clark – enough time to ‘dial in’ his game before the Canucks opened their first playoff series in five years on Sunday night against the Minnesota Wild.

Three more days to wait and prepare.

Markstrom could handle that. He has been waiting for this opportunity for 10 years.

After 270 games in the NHL, plus 165 more in the minors, Markstrom finally has a chance to prove he can be a playoff starter in the world’s best league.

“I’ve waited a long time,” Markstrom said when the Canucks opened their summer training camp in July. “I love these games, I love playoff hockey even though I haven’t been in it at this level. But it’s my favorite hockey. August can’t come soon enough for me.

Well, here it is.

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Of the seven Canucks set to make their Stanley Cup playoff debut against the Wild, Markstrom is by far the oldest at 30. The next closest is 26-year-old defenseman Troy Stecher, who has been a professional for just four years.

In other words, Markstrom may have the least time to make up for what he’s been missing since joining the AHL in 2010, two years after the Florida Panthers drafted Markstrom 31st overall from Gavle, in Sweden.

We know that goalie years are different from skater years, and Markstrom always seems to improve after improving in each of his three seasons as a Vancouver starter and posting a save rate. career best .918, the year of the coronavirus.

But emerging Canucks stars like Brock Boeser, 23, Elias Pettersson, 21, and Quinn Hughes, 20, still have their professional lives ahead of them. Unless he plays until the age of 40, Markstrom’s career is more than halfway.

Canucks general manager Jim Benning again pledged this week that the team and Markstrom would agree after these playoffs on a new contract that will prevent the goalie from leaving Vancouver as an unrestricted free agent.

Rebuilt around a new core of young stars and mid-career professionals, this Stanley Cup tournament should be a taste of the feast ahead for the Canucks. Markstrom has a chance to play a vital role in this ascendancy.

He was their most valuable player this season. Now the six-foot-six goaltender needs to be just as good in the playoffs again. After a five-month layoff that began with knee surgery in February. And just one warm-up game to get ready. On an expiring contract. No pressure.

“He wants to win as badly as anyone else,” Canucks coach Travis Green told reporters on Saturday. “I’ve seen it firsthand in this kind of situation – playoff scenarios. It doesn’t surprise me every time we seem to lose a game (like Wednesday) where we couldn’t score, Marky tends to say he has to be better. Marky just needs to be Marky. We have a lot of confidence in him. He’s fine, he’s doing too well.

His teammates certainly think so.

“I think he’s probably the best goalie I’ve played with,” veteran winger Antoine Roussel told Sportsnet.

Roussel was Ben Bishop’s teammate in Dallas before signing in Vancouver as a free agent two years ago.

He said he knew Markstrom was good in Roussel’s first season with the Canucks, but concluded the goalie was special last fall when he was able to deliver amazing performances while still facing the death of his father in Sweden from cancer. Roussel was amazed at Markstrom’s mental and emotional strength.

“When his dad died he always played that game,” Roussel said, referring to a 2-1 home loss to the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 10. For me, that’s exactly when I knew you could win the Cup with this guy. He has that “X” factor – that even when the pressure is on and things are going, he’s still there. For me, this is proof of a real competitor.

It’s Markstrom’s mental toughness and fierce competitiveness – and a superb season under Green with the Utica Comets in 2014-15, when any NHL team could have claimed the goalie on dispensation – who convinced Benning to trade out popular outgoing Eddie Lack to make room for the Canucks. for Markstrom.

Third row center Adam Gaudette, 23, and fourth row penalty killer Tyler Motte, 25, are also set to make their Stanley Cup playoff debuts on Sunday.

And 28 years after recording his first postseason game as a player with the New York Islanders, Green will coach his first NHL playoff game.

“You wait your whole life, you grow up watching you win the Stanley Cup,” Green said. “When you get there, it’s exciting. I talked about it a bit yesterday (with the team). I think it’s different for some players. Guys who are self-styled stars or elite talent seem to handle this pressure differently than guys who are in the training middle.

“Each player’s mindset may be a little different when it comes to their career situation and skill level, but it always amazed me how much star players wanted the puck on their boards. in any situation. They wanted the pressure. We want a team that wants to participate in these kinds of games. We want to train in these games, we want to play in these games. To get to where we want to go, we have to love and accept this pressure.


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