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What Happened to Jacob Markstrom?

The Calgary Flames are a game away from an early exit, and the man they counted on for so much of the season – Jacob Markstrom – has struggled mightily in the Battle of Alberta.
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The bad news? Jacob Markstrom was the worst goalie in Calgary's first-round playoff series against Dallas.

Jake Oettinger, every night, was the star of the show, and his staggering 6.63 goals saved above average at 5-on-5 proved that. 

The good news? Markstrom was second among all goalies with a .947 SP and 3.60 GSAA. Not too shabby, and he kept his team in the games when they couldn't score. Markstrom was instrumental in that series victory, whether he got the credit for it or not.

But through four games against Edmonton, Markstrom has been the problem, sitting at a playoff-low .824 SP and minus-8.62 GSAA. That's utterly insane for someone pegged as one of the best goalies in the world. And now, after a promising start to the series, the Calgary Flames find them a loss away from a second-round exit after a promising regular season.

A lot of that blame needs to fall in Markstrom's shoulders. Not all – the team's top stars aren't performing, either. But while Calgary won that Game 1 9-6 off the heels of a Matt Tkachuk hat-trick, let's not forget that Markstrom allowed six even-strength goals on 20 shots and contributed to the team's blown 6-2 lead.

Markstrom's struggles were aided by a giveaway behind the net 20 seconds into Game 4, giving the Oilers a 1-0 lead after just one shot. Then, on Edmonton's seventh shot, Zach Hyman poked a loose puck by Markstrom, who couldn't seem to keep track of the puck, and it was 2-0. Evander Kane's 3-0 goal was just downright ugly.

Markstrom picked it up and played a solid final 40 minutes, and the Flames tied it up. But if it wasn't for a goal from their own zone – we aren't talking about Andrei Vasilevskiy level goaltending here -- it wouldn't have been so close. 

As a whole, Markstrom has looked out of sorts. Watch him on many of the goals against: the conventionally positionally sound goaltender has struggled to keep track of the puck, has overplayed simple shots and has scrambled too much for the loose disks than any goalie should be. Markstrom is a Vezina Trophy candidate – it's Igor Shesterkin's trophy to lose, but Markstrom is a worthy finalist. He had a 37-15-9 record and led the league with nine shutouts in what was by far the best season of his NHL career.

So this doesn't feel right. This doesn't feel like the Markstrom that could steal games on command and shut out just about anyone.

But he's their guy, and Calgary can't rely on Daniel Vladar to turn this series around. Markstrom isn't solely to blame for the team's collapse in Game 2, but his play didn't help. The Flames didn't score in Game 3, but Markstrom didn't do them any favors, either.

In short: Markstrom shouldn't be getting outplayed by Mike Smith in this series by any means. Yet here we are.

The Flames need everything to turn around very quickly at this point, and Markstrom is still the guy that'll be tasked to do it. When he's on his game, he's so tough to beat. The problem? He hasn't been THE GUY for an extended period, hence all the stinkers in this series. The Flames need their offense to do more – they shouldn't have to get lucky on goals with the talent they have – but the end result has been everyone playing a step below what they're capable of.

The Battle of Alberta has been exhilarating so far, with some high-scoring games, physicality and an overall perfect sense of rivalry. If you're a neutral fan, you want more of this. 

If you're a Flames fan, you just want to get back into the series. And that begins with their goaltender pulling up the slack for a trio of must-win games. No pressure.

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