A division title? First place? No, just a shutout – Markstrom’s first in the National Hockey League.
Once every seven years or 129 games, whether he needs one or not, Markstrom records a shutout. His teammates were as happy as he was after blanking the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 at Rogers Arena.
Markstrom’s (non) shutout streak was nearing the record 132 games that Pokey Reddick played in the NHL without ever recording a shutout. Goalies have gone longer in the NHL without a shutout, but 132 games is the most games played by a goalie who never had one.
“I’m just more happy about not getting the question (again),” Markstrom said, reporters nodding in agreement.
Understandably, Markstrom has never enjoyed talking about his failure, which was more an embarrassing, almost inconceivable, anomaly rather than an indication of the 27-year-old’s ability.
But some Canuck teammates were talking about it. On the bench. In the third period.
They were breaking the first rule about shutouts, which is to never talk about shutouts until they are finalized.
“Some of the guys were talking about it – just to buckle down and make sure that we’re doing things the right way and try to play in their end as much as we could,” veteran Sam Gagner said. “Try to get pucks deep and not give them any odd-man situations. I was very surprised when I first heard (about the streak). He has played really good hockey for us, helped us win a lot of games. It’s kind of a quirky stat, I guess, and we’re happy that’s over and he can just focus on doing what he’s been doing.”
Since a two-game reset last week when backup Anders Nilsson got consecutive starts so that Markstrom could work with goaltending coach Dan Cloutier, the Canucks’ No. 1 netminder has stopped 65 of 66 shots as the Canucks beat the Hurricanes and Toronto Maple Leafs.
In Saturday’s 2-1 win against the Leafs, Markstrom was beaten only by a deflection with 2:52 remaining in the third period.
“I don’t know about tension, but there certainly was a lot of talk to do whatever it takes out there to get that monkey off his back,” veteran winger Thomas Vanek said. “The boys really bought in after he bailed us out.”
Looking physically and mentally spent after emotional wins against the Leafs and Nashville Predators amid the sudden forced retirement of Canuck Derek Dorsett, Vancouver was outshot 12-3 in the first period by Carolina.
But Vanek and Derrick Pouliot scored for the Canucks in the second period, and Nikolay Goldobin in the third. Markstrom’s best saves were a couple of point-blank glove stops against Hurricane Justin Williams.
“I tried to stay focused and not think about it,” Markstrom said of his shutout. “It’s hard, obviously, seeing the clock roll down. If they would have scored, it would have been fine, too. Nothing would have changed. We’d have a big win at home.
“Early in my career, I had a couple of really close ones. I was 21 years old and then you really want a shutout in the NHL. And then it kind of went away, that urge. I just wanted to win hockey games. You kind of accept that I ain’t getting one. It’s fun. You want to help your team win and if I don’t let in any goals it’s going to mean we’re winning the hockey game.”
If Markstrom had allowed a late goal, it wouldn’t have changed the outcome for the Canucks but there would be a very different conversation today about the goaltender.
As Sportsnet’s Sean McIndoe noted in his excellent blog, Down Goes Brown, there are 90 goalies in the last 30 years who have played 100 or more NHL games with a save percentage of .905 or better, and 89 of those goalies have at least five shutouts. And Markstrom had zero.
But the discussion about Markstrom’s futility streak has been misleading because it created a false impression that the 27-year-old could soon break the record for games without a shutout. That’s a half-truth. Reddick’s record of 132 games without a shutout is a career mark – literally the most games a goalie has played in the NHL without ever recording a shutout.
Ed Staniowski’s first NHL shutout, in 1981-82, came in his 176th game. Numerous other goalies, almost all of them in the 1970s and ’80s, went more than 132 games between shutouts. Reddick’s final game was in 1994.
What made Markstrom’s run astonishing is the low-scoring era in which it came and that, nearly seven years since his NHL debut for the Florida Panthers at age 20, the Swede had rarely even been close to a shutout.
Tuesday’s contest was just the third time in 86 games as a Canuck that Markstrom carried a goalless start into the third period.
As if to rub it in, Nilsson, Markstrom’s backup, had two shutouts in his first three games after signing with the Canucks in July, bringing his shutout total to five in 87 NHL games.
“We’ve been joking about it a little bit, so I’m happy for him,” Nilsson said Tuesday. “He worked really hard for this and has been playing good lately. It’s nice for him to finally get a shutout. He deserves it. It’s a night to remember.”
And a streak to forget.