The goaltender and regular-season team MVP stopped four penalty shots and made a handful of other strong saves his Whites team beat the Blue Canucks 5-2 in a 60-minute scrimmage, the longest of Vancouver’s summer training camp.
Including Sunday night’s scrimmage through two 25-minute halves, Markstrom has allowed just two goals in 110 minutes of tuneup work.
“Really good, looked sharp,” Canuck coach Travis Green said. “It’s encouraging, but it’s not surprising at all. He’s ready to go and I’m not expecting him to be anything but himself. It’s not surprising, though, that he looks sharp.”
Markstrom, who at age 30 is still waiting to play his first National Hockey League playoff game, was not available to the media after Wednesday’s scrimmage but told reporters on a Zoom call on Tuesday that mental preparation will be vital during the extraordinary Stanley Cup tournament that starts Aug. 1.
“It’s a big challenge mentally, too, especially when you’re two weeks in quarantine in Edmonton,” Markstrom said of the Canucks’ hub-city destination. “It’s not only the physical aspect of getting in shape and getting ready, it’s the mental aspect, too. I had a meeting with Clarkie [goaltending coach Ian Clark] and we talked before last game because it’s weird to play in the scrimmages. It’s weird when, obviously, there’s no fans in the stands. For adrenaline purposes, you know when it’s a hockey game [because] you’ve got 20,000 [fans] and it’s loud and it helps you to get going.
“You’re not going to get that help in a couple of weeks here when we start to play against Minnesota. It’s really important… to be able to get yourself going and not depend and wait for the fans to help you.”
After struggling at the start of camp – not surprising for goalies who need to track pucks and read plays as much as react to them – Markstrom has been excellent this week.
“I think you all know that Marky is a gamer,” winger Brock Boeser said. “He’s going to be huge for us, and I know he’ll be ready.”
The Canucks and Wild are so even as opponents, goaltending stands out as a position that could tip the qualifying series in Vancouver’s favour. Markstrom posted a career-best .918 save rate in his third full season as an NHL starter, while Minnesota’s top goalie is career backup Alex Stalock, who helped save the Wild’s season by winning 20 of 36 starts while saving 91 per cent of shots.
FERLAND GAINS SPEED
After surviving Sunday’s scrimmage, his most robust night of hockey since December, winger Micheal Ferland skated better on Wednesday and sniped a late goal against Markstrom while elevated to a line with Bo Horvat and Tanner Pearson.
Signed last summer to a four-year, $14-million-US free-agent contract, Ferland played only five periods of hockey in eight months after suffering a career-threatening concussion in a fight last Oct. 30.
Green said he wasn’t sure what to expect from Ferland at this camp.
“A little bit of a blank canvas, to be honest,” he said. “I think just kind of wait and see how he is, how his conditioning is, how he feels on the ice. I just want him to play and feel good, and then we’ll take the next step.”
A post-scrimmage question referencing John Druce drew a blank from defenceman Troy Stecher, who wasn’t born when Druce scored 14 goals in 15 playoff games for the Washington Capitals in 1990. Stecher, who is 26, refused to name a Canuck from the bottom half of the lineup who could be a playoff scoring hero.
“You can pick anyone,” Stecher said. “I think anybody can score. I mean, I can’t shoot the puck and I scored five times this year.”
With so many NHL players trying to squeeze into Vancouver’s playoff lineup – Loui Eriksson, Brandon Sutter and Jake Virtanen looked the fifth forward line in the scrimmage – it will take some injuries for any of the Canucks’ minor-league callups to play against Minnesota.
Still, this has been a mostly-encouraging camp for the prospects.
Olli Juolevi looks much closer to being ready for the NHL than he was last September, fellow defencemen Brogan Rafferty and Jalen Chatfield have had some good practices, experienced minor-league forwards Tyler Graovac and Justin Bailey have been solid and consistent, and on Wednesday winger Kole Lind had a goal and assist and easily his best day so far.
“This is a huge opportunity for me just to even be in these scrimmages and show the confidence I gained this season,” the 21-year-old, second-round pick, told reporters. “It’s just obviously huge for me being here, just seeing the way these guys work. The work they put in on and off the ice to be where they are is pretty special.”
READY OR NOT
The Canucks are taking another day off Thursday, then will practise Friday and scrimmage again Saturday before leaving Vancouver for their Edmonton hub.
Green said he believes teams will be able to dress an expanded lineup when the Canucks play the Winnipeg Jets next Wednesday in their only warm-up game. Vancouver’s series against Minnesota starts on Aug. 2.