Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Canucks’ top two Swedes took over and near-singlehandedly delivered a victory over the Calgary Flames. The big difference is that when the Sedins were dominating the Flames, they did so with incredible puck possession and shifts spent almost entirely in the offensive zone.
That was decidedly not the case on Saturday night, which is why Jacob Markstrom was the biggest reason the Canucks left Rogers Arena with the win.
The other big reason was Elias Pettersson; we’ll get to him in a little bit, because Markstrom deserves some wild adulation. The Flames dominated puck possession and peppered Markstrom with shots all night long.
Without Markstrom, this game would have been a blowout. The Flames fired a whopping 47 shots on goal, including 20 in the second period alone. The Canucks managed 25 total. Markstrom made 44 saves, matching the second-most in his career. The only time he stopped more was back in 2016, when he made 47 saves on 48 shots against the Winnipeg Jets and still lost, because the 2015-16 Canucks were very, very bad.
Let’s keep in mind that the Flames are the top team in the Western Conference, boasting the best record and the best goal differential. The only team with more goals in the West is the San Jose Sharks, and they’ve played one more game than the Flames.
The Flames have four players with 20+ goals (the Canucks have one) and five players averaging more than a point per game this season, including defenceman Mark Giordano.
So Markstrom didn’t just make 44 saves: he stymied one of the most potent offences in the NHL. Yes, the Flames scored three goals, but they probably should have scored twice that many, at least. This game shouldn’t have even been close, but Markstrom played on a razor’s edge and gave the Canucks a chance.
I saw Markstrom make more stops than a transit rider traveling from Abbotsford to Vancouver when I watched this game.
- If this game were a zombie movie, Markstrom was the guy frantically nailing boards to doors and windows to keep out the living dead, while Pettersson was the guy on the roof casually headshotting zombies that looked like celebrities with a sniper rifle. Pettersson’s two fantastic assists helped the Canucks get past regulation, then Pettersson drove a Mad Max-modified bus through the horde of zombies in the shootout.
- Johnny Gaudreau must have been the most frustrated of the Flames. The Flames’ leading scorer is having a dynamite season — he’s tied for tenth in the NHL in goals and fourth in points — and he managed seven shots on goal, including some incredible scoring chances. But, like a child who has been repeatedly told not to do so, Markstrom kept slamming the door.
- The start of the game gave no indication of how dominant the Flames would be: the Canucks scored on the opening shot. Antoine Roussel won a faceoff in the offensive zone after Bo Horvat was tossed out. Chris Tanev picked up the puck and found an open Horvat in the slot with a lovely pass for the blocker-side finish. Getting tossed out of the faceoff was the best thing that could have happened for Horvat, who had just one goal in his last 17 games heading into this one.
- The tide quickly turned after that. Calgary had eight of the next nine shots on net, with Elias Lindholm putting one of them in for the tying goal. Off a Flames rush, Loui Eriksson lost Lindholm in front of the net and Sean Monahan found him.
- Troy Stecher joined the first power play unit after acing a brief audition at the end of their last game. Travis Green has been strangely hesitant to use Stecher on the power play, despite him being the only Canucks defenceman with a right-hand shot that makes a lick of sense in the role. While the power play didn’t score, it hummed with Stecher on the point, creating multiple great scoring chances.
- Josh Leivo put the Canucks ahead 2-1 with a superb snipe from the high slot, but it was Pettersson’s fantastic blind cross-ice pass to Leivo that created the opportunity. Pettersson picked off T.J. Brodie’s attempted dump-in and swung the puck into space for Leivo to build up speed through the neutral zone. Brock Boeser helped back down the defence by driving through the middle, then Leivo dragged the puck to change the angle and beat David Rittich five-hole.
- The Flames tied the game on the next shift, however, on Markstrom’s lone miscue on the night. Alex Biega mishandled a Derrick Pouliot pass and Mark Jankowski was able to keep the puck in. James Neal chipped the puck towards the net and it took a mean hop on Markstrom, who juggled the puck, allowing Sam Bennett a chance to just barely knock it over the goal line. That’s what happens when you experiment with flubber pucks in an attempt to increase scoring.
- The second period got really absurd: the Flames had the first 13 shots of the period, all within the first eight minutes. That was mainly because the Canucks kept giving the puck away in the defensive zone. The Flames smothered the Canucks in the offensive zone, creating more turnovers than a Southern grandma. The Canucks’ puck management was like if David Brent took up hockey.
- Markstrom held the Flames at bay like a firebreak, but the skaters in front of him kept randomly scattering kindling about. Inevitably, the Flames got through. Biega took took too long to move the puck and got knocked off stride as he did, handing it directly to Derek Ryan. Leivo knocked the puck off his stick, but Noah Hanifin picked it up and fed Andrew “Bread-Eater” Mangiapane for the one-timer. Markstrom had no chance whatsoever, and Mangiapane made it 3-2.
- Two minutes later, Pettersson delivered his second great assist of the game. He went end-to-end at 4-on-4, curled behind the Flames’ net and, just when all attention was on him, delivered a superb cross-ice saucer pass to Boeser. The sniper had plenty of time to pick his spot; fortunately, he picked a spot inside the net.
- That assist gives Pettersson 50 points on the season. Just a reminder: Pettersson turned 20 less than three months ago.
- Biega gave the Flames a dangerous opportunity in the third period when he got a double minor for practicing dentistry without a licence. Swinging for a puck in mid-air, he got none of the puck, but all of James Neal’s mouth, sending multiple teeth flying. After presumably getting all the novocaine in Vancouver injected in his face, Neal returned to the game.
- Poor Markstrom got riddled with shots like Tugg Speedman in Tropic Thunder, but like Speedman, he survived and came up with an enormous save. He robbed Gaudreau on a wide open shot from the slot, snagging it with a windmilling glove.
- That save got all the attention, but I was almost more impressed by this later stop on Mangiapane. It was a near-perfect deflection by Mangiapane in the slot, but Markstrom managed to throw his elbow up high enough to redirect the puck over the net. Markstrom was throwing 'bows like a claustrophic guy in a mosh pit.
- Both teams had great chances in overtime. Gaudreau broke up a 2-on-1 chance for Pettersson, deflecting Boeser’s pass over Pettersson’s stick. Mark Giordano rang the post off the rush, then Boeser got a breakaway the other way. He got slashed, preventing the scoring chance, but drawing a 4-on-3 power play.
- You could see the advantage of having Boeser and Pettersson on opposite sides on the power play: the Flames’ penalty killers had to split their attention to the two snipers, so Stecher slipped the puck to Horvat instead. It was a great feed and Horvat did well to elevate his backhand, but put it off the post.
- Only one player scored in the shootout. It was, of course, Pettersson. He came in with speed to back up Rittich, then threw on the brakes, creating an opening. Rittich, anticipating a deke, shifted his grip on his stick for a potential poke check. As soon as he did, Pettersson casually threw the puck upstairs, like it was the easiest thing in the world. No big deal. Just a perfect, unstoppable shot. Easy-peasy.
That left Markstrom to put the exclamation point on this statement game, which he did with three consecutive stops on Flames shooters. He gloved Matthew Tkachuk’s attempt, shut the five-hole on Monahan, then read Neal perfectly, getting three layers of defence in front of his shot: blocker, stick, and right pad.
Jacob Markstrom the hero tonight making 44 saves and stopping all 3 shooters in the shootout. He's your 1st star tonight, and he gets a big round of #HockeyHugs on #HockeyDay #Canucks pic.twitter.com/wvQEz3Vkkl— Sportsnet 650 (@Sportsnet650) February 10, 2019