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Help Called To Stem The Tide

by Glenn Odebralski / Florida Panthers
Markstrom defends the net against Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil in a game during the 2011-12 season. (Getty Images)

The goaltending crease just got a little more crowded Wednesday and hopefully that's a good thing.

Looking for a spark to help get the Panthers back on track and back in the playoff hunt before the season gets out of hand, the Panthers called up goaltender Jacob Markstrom.

Having fallen short of two points in the last five games, Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon wanted to call up the young netminder for two different purposes.

“We have got to start putting him in the system and see if he can play some games and get some experience for him and we also have to stem the tide,” said Tallon. “I'm not happy. It's a critical part of the season and every game is important now. We need to cut our goals against down. He's played great down there and now he's in his third year as a pro. It's time to see what he can do.

“I'm not going to sit still and allow this (not winning) to continue. We need him to come up and play like he's capable of playing and I'm very confident in that he can do that.”

Both Tallon and head coach Kevin Dineen couldn’t resist bringing up the netminder as the 6’6 Swede has found his rhythm of late with San Antonio (AHL). He’s gone 8-4 in his last 12 games and has given up two goals or less in 11 of his last 16 games played.

“We do have that guy in the American League that we truly believe in and he's here to help us win,” said Dineen who wouldn’t specify which game Markstrom would play or if he would play on the Pennsylvania road trip. “In whatever way I decide to use him, he's here to help us win.”

“Lately I really feel that I found my game. I have confidence,” said the Panthers 2008 second round pick (31st overall). “We had a big stretch in San Antonio when we won some games in a big playoff run (last year) and now to get the call up to come here.”

The Panthers brass have seen his maturation since turning pro three years ago and a large part of that credit has gone to goaltending coach Robb Tallas.

“He works with someone with the experience of Jose (Theodore) and he also works with these young kids that need to understand what it's like to be a professional,” said Dineen. “It's a high-end responsibility in that job. It's a team game but no different than a quarterback or pitcher. There's a lot of spotlight on that position and a lot of responsibility. He has done a good job of maturing into a true professional and he's going to have a long career.”

“It takes three-four years before these guys become top notch goaltenders and he's in the right situation. He's improved a lot,” said Tallon. “He's played really well this year. He's matured emotionally and physically.

“He has the ability to shut the door and help us turn this thing around.”

With the way the Panthers have struggled, there’s a chance for Markstrom to take the reigns by shutting that door and keeping it that way.

“Obviously every time I get the call to come up here to Florida, it's an opportunity for me,” said Markstrom.

The goaltender can certainly handle the pressure. Playing in one of the toughest buildings in the league last year against Montreal, Markstrom shut down a Canadiens attack that put 41 shots on net. The 23-year old had to make several highlight-reel saves in picking up his second career victory in the 2-1 victory.

Markstrom makes a save against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre during the 2011-12 season. (Getty Images)

“He was brilliant in that game,” said Tallon. “He has that capability.”

Dineen also spoke about that instance for Markstrom but said that all three goaltenders have shown the flashes. He’s looking for someone that will do it on a game-to-game basis.

“I've seen all of our goalies. I've seen Jacob do it in Montreal last year. I saw Clem do it in Philadelphia last year. I saw Theo do it in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago,” said Dineen. “I've seen a lot of hockey over the years and I know that, I get back to it, that's a key position. That is a really key position and a hot goaltender can really make a difference for your team and give you the jump start and give you that back bone that we are looking for.”

Competition is often the best remedy and with the addition of Markstrom, the Panthers hope that all three tenders games will jump to another level.

“We just have to get everybody playing well at the same time and the competition will maybe force some guys to maybe pick up their games a little bit,” said Tallon. ”That's what it's all about here and that's what is best for the team.”

Being competitive, you know that the goaltenders will be up for that pointed challenge by the coaching and hockey operations staff.

“I've always been confident. As a goalie you have to be. That's a big thing, your confidence, and how good you feel,” said Markstrom. “You feel like you can win every game. It doesn't matter if I'm in San Antonio, if I'm here in Florida of Sweden when I played there.

“Every time I put on the jersey, it doesn't matter what it is, I expect to win games and don't let in any goals. That's a mindset that you come into every game.”

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