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Struggling Panthers ready for Markstrom era

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- The Jacob Markstrom era has arrived for the Florida Panthers.

Long touted as one of the best goalie prospects around, Markstrom should be in line for his first extended action in the NHL with veteran Jose Theodore out 5-6 weeks with a leg injury.

Even Panthers general manager Dale Tallon acknowledged that Markstrom's time has come.

"You'd have to say yes," Tallon said Tuesday morning. "We've got a lot of confidence in the young man and he's got a lot of confidence in his abilities. He's big and strong. We were hoping to hold off a little bit, but let's go. Let's see if he can do it, and I'm very confident that he can."

With both Theodore and veteran backup Scott Clemmensen struggling, Markstrom was called up from San Antonio of the American Hockey League and started against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Feb. 22 and the Boston Bruins two days later.

Jacob Markstrom
Jacob Markstrom
Goalie - FLA
RECORD: 0-2-0
GAA: 3.05 | SVP: 0.915
Even though Florida lost both games, Markstrom acquitted himself quite well, stopping 65 of 71 shots. His save percentage of .915 in those two games was much better than those compiled this season by Theodore (.893) and Clemmensen (.859).

Even so, Markstrom was sent back to San Antonio after his two starts before getting the call again.

"He's a kid on his way up," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "Obviously, with two goalies right now it gives us the option that Jacob is going to get a good body of work here and be able to get away from and not talk about potential and get to the real deal. I have a strong belief in him as a person and as a goaltender."

Markstrom, a second-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, made his debut in the League when he appeared in one game in the 2010-11 season after he made the move from his native Sweden to North America.

He also appeared in seven games last season, and now he's ready for his big chance.

"Obviously, I've been wanting to be here for three years and I've been working hard and here is the opportunity," Markstrom said. "Obviously, you don't want to see Jose hurt. He's a great guy and a great goalie. He's really been helping me all last year and this year when I've been up here. You don't want to see a guy like that get hurt. But hopefully I get to play and we win some games.

"I've been feeling like I'm ready a long time. Just working hard down there in San Antonio, and now I'm here. I'm just excited to be here."

Although Dineen doesn't reveal his starting goaltender, it's expected Markstrom will get the nod Tuesday night against the Winnipeg Jets.

"I've seen him play. He can make the difference in the game right away. Right away, he becomes the equalizer."
-- Jets coach Claude Noel on Jacob Markstrom

Jets coach Claude Noel not only said he was expecting Markstrom to start, but he  mentioned him first when he talked about the reasons his team shouldn't take the struggling and injury-ravaged Panthers lightly.

"Markstrom, first of all, can win a game by himself," Noel said. "He's starting. I've seen him play. He can make the difference in the game right away. Right away, he becomes the equalizer."

The 6-foot-6 Markstrom, who turned 23 on Jan. 31, was recalled Sunday after Theodore was placed on injured reserve.

But any thought of Markstrom getting the start against the Carolina Hurricanes that day vanished when his equipment -- along with that of defenseman Nolan Yonkman, also called up from San Antonio -- failed to make his flight to Fort Lauderdale.

Markstrom said he had some old gear at BB&T Center, but was missing his skates. So while he waited for his equipment to arrive, goaltending coach Robb Tallas served as Clemmensen's backup for the first 16 minutes of Sunday's game.

"Tallas is a good goalie," Markstrom said with a smile, "I have no problem seeing him out there."

Now, Markstrom has his equipment and he's ready to show what the fuss was all about.

Markstrom is one of the many highly touted prospects in the Florida organization. He's joining three others who already are making significant contributions: defenseman Erik Gudbranson, center Drew Shore and left wing Jonathan Huberdeau, who was named NHL Rookie of the Month for February and had both Panthers goals in Sunday's 3-2 loss to Carolina.

"It's a big opportunity," Gudbranson said. "The exciting part about it is seeing him walk into the room knowing he's got a big chance here to prove himself and earn himself a spot. As a team, we're very excited. He's one of the top young goalies coming up, for sure. He works hard, he's big in the net and he's a pretty good teammate too. He's good to have around the room. We're very excited to have him."

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