With the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars almost cancelling each other out offensively to start their playoff series, their goalies are taking centre stage.
Calgary’s Jacob Markstrom and Stars counterpart Jake Oettinger have each allowed a single goal over the first two games of the series tied 1-1 heading into Saturday’s Game 3 at American Airlines Center.
The Flames scored in the first period of a 1-0 win in Game 1, followed by the Stars doing the same in Game 2, but adding an empty-net goal at the Saddledome.
Markstrom, 32, carried more playoff experience into this series than the 23-year-old Oettinger, who made his post-season debut in Calgary.
Markstrom is performing in front of fans in the post-season for the first time in his career, however.
The Flames’ goalie opened with a 16-save shutout in Game 1 and turned away 21 of 22 shots in the Game 2 loss.
Joe Pavelski’s long tip-in of Jason Robertson shot over Markstrom’s glove in the first period stood up as the winning goal for the Stars.
“All the challenges that any goalie faces here is you have to stop the puck and you have to be better than the other goalie out there,” Markstrom said.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s going to be a battle. In the playoffs, everything gets ramped up a little bit with shots and traffic and people in front of the net and all that. You’ve got to keep playing your game, stay calm and stop as many pucks as you can.”
Oettinger’s been the busier man whose 29-save shutout in Game 2 held off the pressing Flames. The Lakeville, Minn., made 25 saves and gave up a power-play goal to Elias Lindholm five minutes into Game 1.
“I’ve been to playoff games as a fan and kind of knew the intensity. When you’re between the pipes, it’s a whole different ball game,” Oettinger said.
“It’s a dream come true to be a starting goalie in the playoffs here and I’m going to try to keep giving my team a chance to win.”
Markstrom is an elite NHL goalie who can put an exclamation mark on that status with a long playoff run.
The six-foot-six, 206-pound Swede was considered a huge get by Flames general manager Brad Treliving when Markstrom signed a six-year, US$36-million contract in October 2020.
Markstrom has lived up to his billing in his first full season as a Flame. His nine shutouts topped the NHL.
His goals-against average (2.22) and save percentage (. 922) ranked in the top five. His 63 starts tied for second with Tampa Bay’s Vasilevskiy behind Nashville’s Juuse Saros (67).
Treliving signed Markstrom shortly after the goalie helped the Vancouver Canucks into the second round of Edmonton’s playoff bubble in 2020.
Markstrom was unable to finish out the series against the Vegas Golden Knights because of injury, but emerged from his first post-season with an 8-6 record.
“Made tons of big saves at the right moments,” recalled Flames defenceman Chris Tanev, who was also his Canucks teammate then.
“Unfortunately he got dinged up against Vegas, but up until that point he was great for us and one of the big reasons we were able to make it that far.
“I’ve said it for a long time now. I think he’s, if not the best, one of the top-two, top-three goalies in the league. I’ve played with him a long time. I love playing with him. I love communicating with him. He’s as good as it gets and he’s only going to get better for us.”
Injuries to Ben Bishop, Braeden Holtby and Anton Khudobin turned Stars goaltending into a carousel this season.
Oettinger, a Stars first-round pick (26th) in 2017, took the majority of starts going 30-15-1. Oettinger had one shutout, posted a goals-against average of 2.53 and a save percentage of .914.
“Young goalie, but doesn’t seem like it,” Stars defenceman Esa Lindell said.
The six-foot-five, 220-pound netminder played a few minutes of mop-up duty in Edmonton’s bubble and faced eight shots in total.
“Markstrom has a lot more experience dealing with this than Jake does, and that being said, we have full confidence in Jake and we’ll help him get through this,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said before the series.
“His athleticism, his compete, he’s mentally strong, when he’s had some tough nights, he bounced back. We’ve put him in back-to-back games and he’s played very well.”
The top line of Lindholm, Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Gaudreau produced Calgary’s lone goal in the first two games.
The Flames held the Stars’ No. 1 trio of Pavelski, Robertson and Roope Hintz to just two shots in Game 1 before Pavelski struck in Game 2.
Bolstered by the work of their goaltenders, each side’s penalty kill is also stifling scoring. The Stars are 0-for-7 and the Flames 1-for-8.
“They have some great shooters over there and some guys that can score,” Oettinger said. “If we can keep them to the outside, it’s my job to come up with saves.”