We’ve all had those sort of days. You get up in the morning, think, “this is gonna be a great day” and, then, you spill coffee all over yourself as you gun it out of the drive-thru. Your morning is interrupted by a call from the school principal because your kid swore in class. You go for your lunch, but your credit card doesn’t work.
Your very good day has turned into a very bad day.
Now, imagine you are Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom. You’re a candidate for the Vezina Trophy. You’re widely recognized as one of the best goaltenders on the planet. But you’ve been soundly criticized for your play in the first three games of the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Your team has fallen behind two games to one to the hated Edmonton Oilers. You have given up 15 goals in three games, and suffered the indignity of being pulled in Game 3.
But in Game 4, things are going to be better. You are going to be the goalie that NHL fans saw in the regular sea… and then, less than a minute in, you misplay a puck, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins fires it into the net to send Rogers Place into a frenzy.
“Stuff like that happens,” RNH says after the game. “Bounces happen. That’s hockey.”
By the end of the first, you’ve given up three goals on nine shots.
You’ve spilled coffee all over yourself. Again.
Your Flames teammates will rally like demons to tie the game, including a bizarre goal on a 100-foot floater from Rasmus Andersson that Oilers goalie Mike Smith admitted that he never picked up.
To get them there, you absolutely rob Leon Draisaitl with the Oilers on a powerplay. Things are getting better. But, you can’t stop Nugent-Hopkins from making it 4-3. And you can only watch helplessly as Evander Kane scores the empty-net insurance goal in a 5-3 win. That’s Kane’s second goal of the game, and he has 12 for the playoffs, The record for goals in a playoff campaign is 19. We are only in round two.
The Oilers lead the series 3-1. And, once again, Jacob Markstrom, you know you’re a storyline — for all the wrong reasons
“The way that we stuck together and came out at the right end of it, shows the character we have and shows the resilience we have,” Nugent-Hopkins will say after the game.
“There’s ebbs and flows to a game, to a series, and they’re all learning experiences,” Smith will add. “Over the whole course of the game, there’s stuff that happens. It’s never perfect, but it’s how you handle it, it’s how you battle through the adversity and stick together as a group.”
Now, let’s go back in time. About a week or so. The Edify staff needs some sort of Calgary Flames trinket. Anything. We’re setting up a shot of a piece of Flames memorabilia being destroyed to go along with this story. So, on a trip to West Edmonton Mall, I find it. It’s a stand-up jersey, with “25” and “Markstrom” on the back. For $25 (get the symmetry with the jersey number?), our prop was found.
It wasn’t actually destroyed for the photo shoot. It’s become part of the Sargasso Sea of junk that takes up about half my desk. Old calendars. Old staff lists. An unused mug. Press releases I haven’t bothered to recycle. And Markstrom’s jersey, already gathering dust.
But since we’ve taken possession of the Markstrom jersey, he’s been nowhere close to the goalie he’d been. It can’t be a coincidence, can it? Did this thing, found in a clearance bin, have some sort of… power?
Years and years of writing about sports has taught me several things:
Sports often have coincidences that can’t be explained
Some people scoff at ritual and superstition, but they work.
So, is the Markstrom jersey sitting in the corner of my desk giving the Oilers a supernatural edge? Of course it is. It’s the only way to explain an elite goalie losing his game at the worst possible time for the Flames.