CALGARY – The easy narrative would be to pin this one on Jacob Markstrom.
However, it’s the wrong one.
“Connor McDavid was the difference in the game,” said Darryl Sutter, as so many NHL coaches have been quoted as saying before.
“Goaltending was fine. It wasn’t an issue.
“It was close, right? The difference is the big boys, for sure.”
Given his well-documented struggles against the Oilers, all eyes were on Markstrom as the second instalment of Alberta’s big battle faced off Saturday.
It ended much the same way the previous four playoff games between the two did, with McDavid pulling a few rabbits out of his hat as part of a 3-2 win in which he picked up another three points.
The unfortunate part for Markstrom is that McDavid’s league-leading ninth goal (in just nine games) turned the game on a dime as the netminder scrambled to get back into his net.
With the Flames up 2-1 with 11 minutes left, Markstrom raced behind his net to unsuccessfully corral a Cody Ceci dump-in, rimming along the glass.
As it passed, you can imagine the horror when he realized the lad waiting at the hash marks along the boards for it was the world’s best player, who snapped it through the Flames goalie as he tried in vain to reposition himself.
“It came around the glass, right?” shrugged Sutter.
“It’s just one that, one way or another, you try to make. It’s not a mistake or anything. We want our goalies to try to play that.”
Three minutes later, Zach Hyman’s second of the game stood as the game-winner – a lucky bounce off his skate, courtesy of a no-luck backhand pass by, you guessed it, McDavid.
Sutter took no issue with Hyman’s first period goal, as it too came from a fortuitous bounce off the stick of a diving MacKenzie Weegar.
He did have a problem with the sloppy play between Weegar and Chris Tanev behind the net that led to a game-costing turnover.
“When it’s 2-2, you have to make a better play in your own zone, especially when you know McDavid is on the ice,” said Sutter.
“Just gotta handle the puck properly, I mean, it was a faceoff, they knew who was on the ice.
“So, defencemen have to make firmer plays with the puck. It wasn’t a confrontation or anything. We passed the puck twice below our goal-line. Soft plays.”
Tanev admitted as much.
“It was just D to D to Weegs, he tried to make a play to the middle, it deflected right back into the slot,” explained Tanev, who took no solace in limiting the Oilers to three goals.
“Not good enough. (McDavid) scored and then got an assist on the game winning goal.
“Winning with ten minutes left and lose in regulation. So, take responsibility with that with the leadership. I’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be better as a team.”
Well aware of the scrutiny their starting netminder has been under throughout his well-documented struggles against Edmonton, the Flames certainly wanted to put an end to the narrative that will continue to dog Markstrom, who has now lost five in a row to Edmonton.
Playing a tight, playoff-style game that limited the Oilers to 25 shots, the Flames still needed Markstrom to come up big on a handful of occasions.
He did, using the help of his crossbar (twice) to set the stage for what looked like it might be a monumental reversal of fortune for him.
“I thought both goalies probably made the saves they had to,” said Sutter when asked if rookie Stuart Skinner outplayed Markstrom.
“We had trouble scoring on Skinner, if you remember in Edmonton. I think we had 31 shots, didn’t score a goal against him. We got two against him tonight and at the end of the day, you have to score three goals. You’re not going to hold Edmonton to two with the ammo they have.”
Skinner’s 40 saves gave him his first win against a Calgary club that is still struggling five on five.
“A couple of bad bounces, I feel at the end, and the best player took advantage, that’s what happened,” said Huberdeau, who had a golden chance in the slot bounce over his stick late.
“Obviously I would like to have that one back but I feel right now that’s kind of how it’s going. I’ve got to be better and bury that puck.”
The loss was Markstrom’s first of the year, dropping his record to 4-1.
Yet, because of his history against the Oilers, the narrative will continue.
“He made some big saves for us all night and kept us in the game,” said Tanev.
“It wasn’t Marky’s fault.”