VANCOUVER – With his mother in the stands and an angel on his shoulder, Jacob Markstrom played Thursday one of the greatest games in net in Vancouver Canucks history.
It may not be remembered that way, considering it was a mid-week game in December against the Carolina Hurricanes. But considering that only one week earlier Markstrom was home in Sweden for his father’s funeral after his dad’s agonizing battle with cancer, what the 29-year-old goalie did was truly astounding.
He stopped all 43 shots he faced and the Canucks, who should have trailed by three or four goals heading into the third period, somehow won 1-0 on Elias Pettersson’s world-class finish 40 seconds into overtime.
There have been a lot of wins for Vancouver in the last three decades, although not nearly enough the last four years, but precious few to celebrate since they entered the National Hockey League in 1970.
This was worth celebrating – if not for the hockey performance, then at least the human one.
“That was a pretty special night for Marky,” veteran defenceman Tyler Myers said. “He made some unbelievable saves the whole game. We gave up some chances we don’t want to give up. But he kept us in it.”
Canucks captain Bo Horvat said: “I’ve seen him play some unbelievable games, but this one definitely stands out tonight. To actually reward him (with the win) for the tremendous game he played hits home a little better. He made some spectacular saves tonight.”
Markstrom made 22 saves in the second period alone when the Hurricanes outskated, outshot and out-everythinged the Canucks. Carolina was especially dangerous on its three power plays, which included an uninterrupted advantage of 4:34 early in the period.
Markstrom snared a one-timer from Dougie Hamilton, made a pair of point-blank saves on Ryan Dzingel and benefitted from a questionable, quick whistle that nullified what appeared to be a Sebastian Aho goal while the Hurricanes skated six-on-five during a delayed penalty.
The goalie was swallowing so many pucks that at one point late in the period, the disc actually disappeared down the back of Markstrom’s jersey, which led to a comical search for the puck while some disbelieving Carolina players started looking in the Vancouver net for it until shooed away by Canucks’ Jay Beagle.
In the third period, Markstrom made a brilliant glove save on Aho’s open shot from the slot, and two more on Warren Foegele from the edge of the crease.
And Markstrom did all this the day Canucks coach Travis Green announced that backup Thatcher Demko, vital to Vancouver during Markstrom’s two leaves of absence this fall, suffered a concussion during during an optional practice on Wednesday.
Markstrom may need to carry the team now.
With back-to-back weekend road games in San Jose and Las Vegas, and the Canucks coming off a 4-1 Tuesday loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday’s game was one Vancouver absolutely needed to have.
“It’s a great win,” Markstrom said. “We talked about how important this game was. We’re going on a couple-of-games road trip here and you don’t want to be in the hole when you get to the road. So a huge win. Just to stick to it and don’t get derailed and lose our purpose and how we should play … it was a great game.
“I feel like I corrected the stuff I didn’t like in the Toronto game. I didn’t play a game for about a week before that, so I was a little too excited and little tense for that Toronto game. I just wanted to be a little loose and relaxed, and I thought we did that.”
The Canucks were too loose and relaxed in front of Markstrom, but won it when Pettersson skated off the bench and on to a centring pass from Brock Boeser, correctly adjusted his line to the net to collect the puck’s ricochet off a fallen stick, and zipped a backhander under the cross bar behind Hurricane goalie Petr Mrazek.
This wasn’t a playoff game, like Roberto Luongo’s brilliant 56-save performance in 2007 when the overmatched Canucks lost an elimination game 2-1 to the Anaheim Ducks. And it wasn’t quite Kirk McLean’s 45-save shutout against the Montreal Canadiens in 1991, when fans at the old Forum actually stood and applauded for the Canucks goalie at the end.
But you’d be lucky to find a handful of individual goaltending performances in Canuck history any better than what Markstrom produced on Thursday.
“They’ve got a lot of skilled players, a lot of fast players, and we kind of got in a track meet a little bit,” Canuck winger J.T. Miller said of the Hurricanes. “Sometimes that’s going to happen. But we found a way to get two; that’s really all we care about right now. Marky was unreal.”