Markstrom demonstrates once again why now isn’t the time for Flames to trade him

Jacob Markstrom held down the crease with 31 saves and Nazem Kadri fired home the game-winning goal as the Calgary Flames topped the Boston Bruins 3-2 in a thrilling overtime contest.

CALGARY — The case for keeping Jacob Markstrom past the March 8 trade deadline grew by another two points on Thursday.

Without him, the Calgary Flames don’t win an overtime thriller to complete the most improbable of season sweeps against the Boston Bruins.

Without him, they don’t stay on the fringes of a playoff picture.

Without him, all hope is lost for this season.

Those on Team Tank will suggest for those very same reasons Markstrom is a detriment to the team’s draft position, who needs to have his hot hand cashed in on now.

It says here, that time is this summer when 31 other teams have a chance to meet the steep asking price for one of the world’s best goaltenders.

In the meantime, he continues to keep the team’s playoff hopes alive, fostering a positive environment for youngsters to continue growing — players like Martin Pospisil, whose late first-period goal played a big role in a dramatic 3-2 win few fans in attendance will forget.

And while GM Craig Conroy is right to prioritize the team’s long-term growth over its faint chances at a playoff berth, the reality is there’s no need to rush trading the team’s MVP when he still has two years left on his contract.

Especially given how much he means to a team that doesn’t deserve to have its heart ripped out with a Markstrom departure.

“Everything,” said coach Ryan Huska when asked what the 34-year-old backstop means to the group.

“He’s elite. He gives us a chance to win every time he’s in the net and you want that from your goaltender. But he’s also stolen games and situations for us this year that allowed us to get points.

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“We think the world of him, we really do.”

It wouldn’t be fair to suggest Markstrom’s 31 saves stole the game for the Flames, as the team’s effort against one of the league’s gold standards deserves higher praise than that.

But in a highly entertaining, back-and-forth affair, he made a handful of improbable stops that set the stage for three magnificent overtime saves preceding Nazem Kadri’s winner.

“He’s the backbone,” said Kadri, who didn’t sign a seven-year deal in Calgary to see the organization send its best chance to win elsewhere during a playoff push.

“He gives us an opportunity to win.

“That’s what all great teams have, a guy in the crease that can make some timely saves. To win a championship, to win playoff games, to win playoff series you need timely saves and timely goals and you saw both of those tonight.”

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Playing against a Bruins team that hasn’t lost a regulation road game in 11 outings, the Flames opened Thursday’s game with a spirited effort highlighted by Oliver Kylington’s second goal in as many games.

Late in the opening period, Markstrom raced out towards the hash marks to beat Brad Marchand to the puck, only to have his weak clearing pass land on Charlie Coyle’s stick, which he used to quickly deposit past the out-of-position netminder.

“It was like when we were in New York and he went for the empty net — it ends up in the net and you knew they weren’t going to score again on him,” said Huska of a gaffe that made it 1-1.

“That’s the way he is, he’s competitive like that.

“That was a bit of an unfortunate bounce because I think he had the right idea. He was going to play it hard out of the zone and it kind of flipped on him. Those don’t sit well with him and you know in those situations he’ll be at his best from that point on.”

He sure was, thwarting a David Pastrnak chance late in the second with his shoulder and stunning Jakub Lauko in alone minutes later.

In overtime, he used his glove to stop Charlie McAvoy on a 2-on-1, robbed Jesper Boqvist in alone and then doubled up on Pastrnak’s heartache when he shut the door on another one of his 2-on-1 chances.

Cue Kadri’s heroics to put the Flames at 5-1 in OT.

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Because of it, the Flames kept pace with St. Louis to stay three back of the final wild-card berth.

His brilliance as one of the league’s top netminders has done well to mask all sorts of deficiencies on a transitioning Flames club that will have even more shortcomings once Noah Hanifin and Chris Tanev are swapped out.

“There were stretches in tonight’s game we were not at our best and we relied on our goaltender, and whether that was against the Bruins or my son’s hockey team, there’s a pretty good chance you’re not going to win,” said Huska.

“Like Naz said, he’s the backbone of this team,” added Kylington.

“He’s our best player.

“He bails us out, you saw that in the second, and the third, and in overtime.

“You don’t win many games in the league if you don’t have a goalie like that.

“For us, we love him and he’s a big part of our team.”

The win was the 211th of Markstrom’s career, passing Tommy Salo as the second-winningest Swedish netminder in NHL lore.

“Yeah, I mean I grew up watching him play,” said Markstrom, who said he was too focused to hear the fans chanting his name.

“I’ve got a few more to (Henrik) Lundqvist and that’s the next guy you are chasing.”

He needs just 248 wins to catch him.

And while there’s no doubt he will, and should, accumulate the bulk of his future wins elsewhere, it would be hard to fathom how you could decimate the Flames now by trading him for anything less than the full asking price they’re ultimately looking for.

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