EDMONTON — There is a special place in the mythology of the game for players who, through their indomitable will, can take their team and drag them into the fight.
Those players, of course, are legends. Bobby Clarke. Mark Messier. Jonathan Toews. There have been more over the years and they are of a type. Maybe they’re not the most talented players on the ice but there is something in their makeup which refuses to admit defeat, refuse to acknowledge it’s even a possibility.
Almost always they are the captains of their team. Usually they are centres. But seldom are they goalies and that’s what makes Jacob Markstrom’s performance in the Vancouver Canucks’ Game 5 win all the more memorable.
“You could feel it on the bench,” Canucks head coach Travis Green said of Markstrom’s play in the Canucks’ 4-3 win which wasn’t goaltending so much as it was a bayonet charge. “Every once in a while there’s a save where someone will say that’s the one we need.
“That was one of those moments. You know you got a big save and that might have been the one that kept you in the game. Now you have to push. I thought our guys responded to that save well.”
Friday | Game 6
St. Louis Blues vs. Vancouver Canucks
(Canucks lead best-of-seven series 3-2)
6:45 p.m., Rogers Place (Edmonton), TV: Sportsnet, Radio: Sportsnet 650 AM
The next question is which one? Markstrom’s flying blocker save off Jacob de la Rose to open the second after the puck had taken a bizarro deflection off the linesman? His pad save off David Perron from home plate? His scrambling save off Robert Thomas?
After the game J.T. Miller cited the de la Rose save as the game’s turning point.
“That game could have been 4-1 and that’s a way different scenario,” Miller said.
The problem was the score was 2-1 at the time proving even the Canucks were confused by the frequency of Markstrom’s game-altering saves.
“I mean when Marky’s playing like that it fires the bench up,” said Jordie Benn. “When he’s doing those things it’s pretty incredible to see a human being can make saves like that.”
Markstrom, as he’s been throughout this season, has been the foundation on which the Canucks have built their post-season success. Now up 3-2 on the defending Stanley Cup champions with a chance to close them out on Friday, he might have had better technical stretches through his breakout campaign as a top-tier NHL goalie.
But in the heat of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the combustible Swede has demonstrated a battle level which has inspired every member of his team.
The saves were one thing. But it’s the way he made them — throwing his body at the puck when de la Rose was lining up a gimme, lunging across his crease to get a right pad on Thomas’s bid — which was the larger story and fuelled the Canucks’ audacious comeback.
Some three minutes after the Thomas save, Jake Virtanen won a puck battle behind the Blues net and Miller, another warrior on this night, scored on a wraparound. That goal started a three-goal tsunami for the Canucks, which gave them the lead and, eventually the game.
Now they have to do it one more time against an opponent which is harder to kill than Dracula.
“I’ve heard it since I was young and I do believe it,” said Green. “The fourth one is the hardest (to win). We’re playing a championship team that has a high will to win and we’re going to see their best tomorrow.”
The Canucks did receive some good news on Thursday. Defenceman Alex Edler should be back for Game 6 after missing the third period on Wednesday night with a ghastly cut over his ear late,
That, at least, was the prognosis of Dr. Benn. It just wasn’t confirmed by his colleague Dr. Green.
“He’s fine and ready to rock.” Benn said of Edler.
“I won’t say he’s in,” said Green. “I won’t say he’s out. I hope he’s in.”
Markstrom, as it happened, even helped the depleted defensive corps in Game 5, handling the puck more than he customarily does and repeatedly beating the Blues’ forecheck with alert passes.
“It definitely helps us,” said Troy Stecher. “It’s not as predictable when the forecheck’s coming down. A lot of times when the puck’s in deep they’re going to be changing so any time Marky can get it up quick it’s going to be beneficial.”
Christopher Tanev and Jacob Markstrom of the Vancouver Canucks defend against David Perron of the St. Louis Blues in Game Five of the Western Conference First Round during the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 19, 2020 in Edmonton.The Blues, meanwhile, have goaltending problems beyond those presented by Markstrom. After Jordan Binnington, last year’s Stanley Cup hero, took the losses in Games 1 and 2, head coach Craig Berube switched to Jake Allen who delivered wins in Games 3 and 4.
In Game 5, however, Allen could be faulted on Jake Virtanen’s game-tying goal in the second and failed to cover the puck on Miller’s goal.
Berube was asked if he’ll change goalies again for Game 6.
“I haven’t made that decision yet,” he said.
When asked about Markstrom’s impact on the game, the Blues’ coach was a little more direct.
“We had a lot of good looks,” he said. “I’ve got to give (Markstrom) full credit. He out-competed us in some areas last night and made some tremendous saves.”
Now he has to finish the job. Over the life of this series, Markstrom has been the one area in which the Canucks have a clear advantage. This is his first playoff series and he’s waited a long time for this opportunity.
He also knows this is where reputations are made and lost in his business.
“This is what our team is built for,” said Berube. “I told them at the beginning it’s going to be a long series.
“This is our game. We wear teams down over time. You know we’re going to get to a Game 7.”
Maybe but Markstrom might have the final say on that subject.
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