WINNIPEG – Jacob Markstrom earned the praise he received from his Calgary Flames’ teammates and coach Wednesday night.
Markstrom made 34 saves and Andrew Mangiapane and Nikita Zadorov each had a goal and assist as the Flames kept their playoff hopes alive with a 3-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets.
“He was great today,” Mangiapane said of the veteran netminder. “He’s been great down the stretch here.
“We’ve got three more games, we’re going to need him for all three of those. He’s a big part of our team and I’m happy to see how he’s playing right now.”
The Flames (37-27-15) and Jets (43-32-3) both have 89 points, but Winnipeg maintains its hold on the second Western Conference wild-card spot because it has the better win percentage. The Jets have four games remaining, one more than the Flames.
“If we didn’t win tonight or if you lose in overtime or a shootout, that’s a big swing, too, so all we did was close the gap,” Calgary coach Darryl Sutter said.
Walker Duehr also scored for the Flames, who lost to Chicago the night before with Markstrom in net but are 5-1-0 in their past six games.
Kyle Connor scored for the Jets,who lost for the first time in three games and are 3-3-0 in their past six contests.
Connor Hellebuyck made 32 saves in his NHL-leading 61st start and 10th in a row.
“We are still above them. We have a game in hand. We’re still on the inside,” Jets centre Pierre-Luc Dubois said of the Flames.
“But, of course, this team, we would have loved to win it and that is the objective. But we are still ahead of them. We still have one game in hand. We could be in a worse position right now, but we’ve got to look forward to the next game.”
The Jets play another crucial game Saturday when they host the Nashville Predators, who have 86 points and five games remaining.
“We knew the game was must-win for us and it was a big them for them too, but you can feel it and the crowd was into it,” Markstrom said. “A great team effort and a great win.”
Winnipeg led 1-0 after the first period and it was tied following the second.
The opening period featured plenty of power-play time for both teams.
The Flames had two power plays 13 seconds apart early in the period but only got one total shot on goal.
Their first man advantage came after Dubois was called for boarding. He checked Rasmus Andersson in the back as they raced for the puck and the defenceman slid into the boards behind the net.
Fans then booed Andersson every time he touched the puck during Calgary’s power play, and even at times later in the game.
The Jets went on a four-minute man advantage after Flames forward Milan Lucic received a double minor for high sticking at 9:07. Winnipeg cashed in.
Connor took a pass from Nikolaj Ehlers and fired a one-timer that beat Markstrom on the glove side at 11:42. It was his 31st goal of the season and extended his goal-scoring streak to three games.
The Flames had a goal by Zadorov waived off for goaltender interference at 4:38 of the second.
They scored one that counted less than two minutes later when Mangiapane recorded his 17th of the season at 6:06.
Tempers flared in the middle period and more penalties were handed out, including Markstrom being called for unsportsmanlike conduct for hitting Dubois in the head with his blocker.
“He’s been a rock for us for a couple months now,” Sutter said of Markstrom.
Ten seconds after the Flames had another man advantage expire early in the third, Duehr scored on a wraparound at 4:08.
Zadorov sealed the victory when Hellebuyck couldn’t grab a high shot that flew by him at 10:40.
Winnipeg finished 1-for-5 on the power play, while Calgary was 0-for-6.
“When you want to get your bench rolling and play fast and you keep taking penalties, you can’t get your game going. You can’t,” Jets coach Rick Bowness said.