NEW YORK – This journey in hockey has not been easy for Jacob Markstrom, but the goalie’s past week was probably the hardest he has had.
Back from a personal five-day leave of absence for family reasons, Markstrom is keeping private the grave circumstances that took him home to Sweden and whatever emotions they have caused.
Vancouver Canuck coach Travis Green, who has been around for the resurrection of Markstrom’s career and the 29-year-old’s ascension from waiver-wire reject to National Hockey League starter, has long marvelled at the goaltender’s drive and mental strength.
But Sunday was something else all together.
After rejoining the Canucks on Friday and getting in only one team practice and a skills session with goaltending coach Ian Clark, Markstrom was able to clear his mind and focus his emotions in a remarkable 38-save performance against the New York Rangers.
Markstrom not only helped the Canucks win 3-2, but inspired and lifted his teammates. Because the Markstroms are not his only family.
“Marky is one of the best guys I’ve ever played with,” Canuck winger Tim Schaller said. “We all have his back. I’ll go to battle for that guy any day. That says a lot about him as a person. It’s pretty inspiring to see what he’s doing.”
Winger Brock Boeser called Markstrom’s performance “amazing.”
“Great, just great,” forward Tyler Motte said. “Coming off his absence and coming right back in and having a night like he had tonight, that provides a lot of energy for our group.”
After losing 1-0 Saturday to the New Jersey Devils across the Hudson River, the Canucks dominated the Rangers for two periods before they were hobbled by exhaustion and spent the third period desperately clinging to what was left of their early three-goal lead.
Markstrom made 16 saves in the final period, allowing only Artemi Panarin’s goal at 5:31 – he scored from close range, unchecked by Canucks Chris Tanev and Jake Virtanen – and not another.
That included a two-and-a-half-minute siege by the Rangers late in the third when the Canucks’ fourth-line of Schaller, Motte and Jay Beagle was trapped in its own zone.
“The puck stayed out of the net; that’s what I remember about it,” Markstrom said. “It’s not going to be so pretty always, especially on a back-to-back. This is a tough and fun building to come into and play. Our performance in the first two periods was super impressive. But I liked the end of the third, when we battled, even better.
“That’s what you miss being away from playing games with your teammates. To have a performance like that the last 10, 15 minutes, that’s fun to see.”
To ease tension at the bench after the survivor shift, Green said he made a joke during the final television timeout.
“He said we were getting our shift average up,” Schaller said. “Sometimes we do such a good job getting in on the forecheck and getting a whistle 20 seconds into the shift, they’ll throw out Petey’s line or Bo’s line for the faceoff. This time we had a long shift.”
But the Canucks did not crack.
A revamped power play that featured Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson on their strong sides, where they can skate downhill to the net and make plays on their forehand, produced a goal for Bo Horvat just 6:01 into the first period.
After Boeser scored from the slot off Ranger Henrik Lundqvist’s glove and Brendan Smith’s turnover, and Beagle muscled underneath Mika Zibanejad to score shorthanded and make it 3-0 in the first 17 minutes, it looked like the New York goalie’s day might end early.
But Lundqvist returned for the second period and made big stops on Horvat and J.T. Miller on two-on-one rushes. Vancouver’s failure to extend its lead became more ominous at 14:58 when Jesper Fast deflected in Jacob Trouba’s shot after Micheal Ferland left too much room at the point. Ferland played only three shifts over the final 25 minutes.
Outshot 17-6 in the third period, the Canucks left it largely up to Markstrom to hold the lead.
As he has done so often for Green, who coached the goalie when his career bottomed out with a demotion to the Utica Comets five years ago, Markstrom delivered.
“He’s had a tough week… yeah,” Green said, appearing to suppress his own emotions when asked about Markstrom. “To see how he played tonight, it’s good for him, it’s good for our team. That’s a moment… I know he hasn’t talked about his past week, but he’s had a hard week. You feel for a guy like that, that competes the way he does and loves to win. He’s a real warrior for our team. We were a little nervous putting him in tonight; he hadn’t had a lot of time on the ice. I was happy for him.”
“It’s nice to be back,” Markstrom said.