The Vancouver Canucks’ starting goalie only got one game to get ready but he made the most of it.
The last time Jacob Markstrom played a competitive hockey game, it was Feb. 22.
Two days before the trade deadline, the Vancouver Canucks thrashed the Boston Bruins 9-3.
At some point during the game or perhaps afterwards, the Canucks’ mountain-sized goalie torqued his knee, causing meniscus damage.
When an MRI in Montreal the following Monday confirmed Markstrom would be out for a few weeks, metaphorical klaxons sounded about the Canucks’ playoff push. Backup Thatcher Demko has proven to be a solid goalie, but could he carry the load while Markstrom underwent surgery and recuperated?
Those worries are long in the past. The Canucks’ No. 1 netminder — and the team’s playoffs aspirations as a whole — was a beneficiary of the 4 1/2 month pause from play prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Markstrom is fully healed. And while he had some hiccups in Wednesday night’s exhibition tune-up against the Winnipeg Jets, on the whole he looked ready to face the Minnesota Wild in the Stanley Cup playoffs qualifying round, beginning on Sunday in Edmonton.
“I thought it went better the longer it went, it was nice to be out there, it’s been a while,” Markstrom said after the game. “It’s been a long time and I felt like the longer the game went more details started to fall into place.”
He got a full 60 minutes in against the Jets, but there’s little doubt he’d like to have played at least another warm-up game.
That said, he is thankful that he has had a few days to review and further prepare for the Wild.
“Me and Clarkie (goalie coach Ian Clark) can sit down and see what we need to work a little bit extra on,” he said. “This is going to be an important week to dial my game in.”
Much of Markstrom’s well-documented success this season has been about his mental game. He’s a much more patient person now, he’s said more than once. He’s also put in technical changes with the help of Clark over the past two seasons, mostly making himself stand taller in the net so he can track pucks better.
The different background of having tarps in the stands instead of fans didn’t prove to be an issue, he said. But the lighting was a different story.
“The arena’s pretty dark, it’s not like the bright colours … it’s kinda like when you play teams with darker jerseys,” he said.
Minnesota forward Zach Parise said he and his teammates know that on top of just firing a lot of shots his way, the biggest chance they have for beating Markstrom will be to make life difficult for him visually.
“There’s no doubt he had a great year. He’s a big guy,” he said Friday morning during an online video conference call. “Try to take his eyes away, create some traffic, create some rebounds. … You feel like the scouting report is always the same, create some traffic, take away their eyes.”
Parise’s coach, Dean Evason, had nothing but praise for Markstrom.
The Canucks’ goalie presents a lot of challenges.
“A big guy, difficult to get pucks by him,” Evason said Friday. “Handles it very well. He’s proven to be one of the elite goaltenders in our league.”