CALGARY -- The last time Jacob Markstrom was beaten by a clean shot was opening night in Winnipeg.
No wonder he’s been the story in Calgary four games in.
Both goals the Vancouver Canucks scored on him in their two-game Saddledome set bounced in off Flames defenders. He still won both, picking up a shutout in the first.
Then came Sunday afternoon’s matchup against a Leafs team that repeatedly sent some of the league’s biggest names in alone, only to be thwarted by the big man.
However, by game’s end, the Leafs celebrated three fortuitous bounces that found the net to hand Markstrom and the Flames their first regulation loss of the season, 3-2.
Make no mistake, the Flames didn’t necessarily deserve a better fate, as they were the second-best team in a scrimmage both teams felt was sloppy.
However, when a harmless redirect heading towards the corner careens in off your defenceman’s leg for the game-winner you shake your head and move on.
“For sure lucky bounces,” said the Flames 30-year-old netminder, who has been the team’s best player ever since he signed his six-year, $36-million deal.
“Hopefully these bounces are going to stop. Keep working hard and you create your own luck.”
Full marks to the Leafs, whose inability to convert a Mitch Marner breakaway and endless high-danger scoring chances was made up for with a trio of goals in which they capitalized on the age-old strategy of sending traffic towards the net.
That’s how Jake Muzzin opened the scoring, bouncing a point shot in off of Dominik Simon. Wayne Simmonds put the Leafs up 2-1 late in the second by simply turning at the side of the net as a puck bounced in off his skate.
The hardest to swallow for Flames fans was Auston Matthews’ game-winner early in the third when he redirected a centering pass from Morgan Rielly that found the shin pads of Rasmus Andersson before bouncing into the net.
It seemed a relatively cruel fate for Markstrom, who stopped 29 shots, which included several chances in tight by a litany of Leafs stars, including William Nylander.
“I got lucky tonight on a couple, but I’ve been unlucky with a couple bounces on this homestretch so I’ll take a couple that bounced my way,” he smiled, when asked about the 24-year-old Leafs sniper whose father, Michael, is a former Flame who used to play and live with Markstrom.
The Flames lamented the fact they didn’t create enough havoc around Jack Campbell, who made 31 saves for the Leafs.
“I thought we could have shot a bit more, especially early in the game, and our traffic could have been better,” said Flames coach Geoff Ward, who insisted the team showed no early rust despite going six days between games.
“I thought we had plenty of chances but the goalie made saves when he needed to. Couple of bounces for them that ended up going in the net but that’s what happens when you shoot the puck to the front of the net. Good things happen normally. They got the extra bounce tonight and that was the difference in the hockey game.”
It’s not like the Flames goals were pretty either, as Sean Monahan tied things 1-1 midway through the second by banking one in off of Campbell’s back during a net-side scramble.
Elias Lindholm’s goal, which closed to gap to 3-2 six minutes into the third, beat Campbell with the aid of Mathew Tkachuk providing one of his well-crafted screens.
"I don't look at him as a menace, I look at him as a really good hockey player," said Campbell, with rare praise for Tkachuk from the opposition.
The Flames recognized TJ Brodie for his 10 years of service with a first-period video and salute on the Jumbotron, drawing hearty stick taps from both benches afterwards.
Watching the notoriously introverted Leafs defender look nervously down at the ice during his recognition was a touching moment that provided one of the most interesting moments of the game.
“I didn’t really know what to do there,” admitted Brodie afterwards.
“Never been on a different team. With no fans I didn’t know whether to wave or what to do. So it was a little awkward. It was special -- I owe a lot to the people in Calgary, teammates, everyone in the organization, the fans. I think it’s a hard one to forget with the situation and everything and looking back after when I do retire, it’s definitely something to tell the kids and the grandkids about the mask and the no fans and stuff. It was different, that’s for sure.”
Typically a man of few words, Brodie did well to sum up the fact his team wasn’t thrilled with its outing either.
“That’s not the way we wanted it to go,” said Brodie, whose teammate, Marner, became the third-fastest Leaf to reach 300 points.
“It was a little ugly at points, but at the end of the day those games are going to happen and those are the ones that count at the end of the year, those messy ones that you end up with two points at the end of.”
They’ll get another crack at one another here Tuesday.