Now a Vezina finalist, don't take Markstrom's brilliant consistency for granted

Calgary Flames' goalie Jacob Markstrom discusses what went well in the first four games of the series and what he expects to see in Game 5 as well as stresses the importance of sticking to the game plan.

Four games into a stalemate between the Flames and Stars, there’s no mistaking the fact Jake Oettinger has been the story of the series so far.

Saving 96 per cent of the 149 shots he’s faced, the 23-year-old is the biggest reason the Stars find themselves deadlocked at 2-2.

However, an argument could be made Oettinger isn’t even the best goalie in the series.

No NHL playoff starter has a lower goals against average than Jacob Markstom’s paltry 1.27, yet no one has received less attention for being as stellar as he has been so far this spring.

That changed Tuesday morning when Markstrom was announced as one of the three finalists for the Vezina.

The man who has been the backbone behind the Flames’ return to the playoffs is finally getting his due as one of the world’s best.

Yet, like his playoff brilliance, the accolade was overshadowed by the enormity of the task at hand.

Asked what it meant to be recognized by the Professional Hockey Writers Association as one of the game’s elite, the 32-year-old Swede shrugged it off like an Alex Ovechkin slapper.

“Right now, not much,” said the man with the .952 save percentage this spring.

“It’s all about tomorrow.”

Music to Darryl Sutter’s ears.

That said, even the coach who bristles over talk of individual awards and achievements had plenty to say about his undisputed MVP.

“The nomination, it’s deserving - 100 per cent,” said Sutter.

“He’s in the top-five in every major category. We talked about it at the start of the year about what some of our goals were and that was to make sure of getting the goals-against to being top-five in the league. That would give us an opportunity to be a playoff team and Marky has certainly carried the flag there.”

The numbers certainly suggest he should be a finalist alongside Nashville’s Juuse Saros and New York’s clear winner, Igor Shesterkin.

A record of 37-15-9, a 2.22 GAA and a .922 save percentage point to a consistency the Flames haven’t seen in their crease since former Vezina winner Miikka Kiprusoff wore Flames silks.

His league-leading nine shutouts had the club on pace to challenge the league’s modern-day record early on, helping the club finish as the third most-stingiest outfit in the league.

Every night he gave the lads a chance to win, while providing so much more than that to a room full of teammates who look up to him.  

“I think he’s a strong leader for our team,” said Sutter.

“The way he carries himself – and you guys know from being around him how he presents himself – he’s a first-class person first, which is a big thing for our young players to see.

“I’m sure that (rookie backup) Daniel (Vladar) has learned a lot from him, how to carry yourself and how to practice and take care of yourself. So that’s important.”

Calm and measured at the podium and in the net, he brings a poise reminiscent of Kiprusoff as well.  

“I congratulated him today, I think a lot of guys did,” said Matthew Tkachuk of the man who made 34 saves a night earlier to lift the Flames back into a series they trailed 2-1.  

“It speaks to the great year he’s had, and I know he’s not content with being a finalist for that. We all have the same goal with where we are right now and where we want to be.”

The reason Oettinger is getting so much love is that the youngster’s workload has been heavy and his play has been so unexpected.

You can’t say the same thing about Markstrom, whose brilliance and consistency have been so commonplace this season that he’s often taken for granted around these parts.

As he made a handful of spectacular saves in the first half of a tight game in Dallas Monday, it was a reminder none of this is possible without him.

One slip-up in the scoreless first half of the game and the Flames could have been down 3-1 in the series.

“Yeah, it was another really good game for him,” ho-hummed Rasmus Andersson when asked about the 34 saves his fellow Swede made in Monday’s pivotal 4-1 win.

“He has been dialed in for all four games and he is an outstanding goalie, and he showed that again.”

Asked about celebrating the win, the even-keel Markstrom smiled.

“What do you celebrate, really?” he said, demonstrating the mindset of someone with far grander designs.

“We haven’t won anything, we haven’t done anything. We’ve got to prepare for the game tomorrow.”

Fair enough. 

He knows that only if he can help his team beat Dallas that the true netminding star of the series can be crowned.

“It’s a great matchup,” said Sutter.

“Oettinger against Markstrom. In the end it will come down to somebody who has four wins and somebody who doesn’t, and that’s how it will be answered.”

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