Makarov no stranger to spotlight
Blades goalie well prepared for playoffs
By Daniel Nugent-bowman, The StarPhoenix
March 23, 2012
Although Andrey Makarov was the Saskatoon Blades' team MVP and starred for his country at the world junior championships, he's never started a major junior playoff game.
But because he came on in relief for three post-season contests for the Quebec league's Lewiston MAINEIACS last year, he's aware of what he's getting himself into when his Blades open their WHL Eastern Conference quarter-final series tonight in Medicine Hat against the Tigers.
"I know one thing, it's a very different game in the playoffs," said Makarov. "It's not the same as the regular season. It's the last chance for win, everybody's working hard."
Then, he added: "I'm goalie, it's good pressure for the playoffs. In playoffs, it's a goalie game."
Yeah, he gets it all right. Makarov is going head-tohead with Tigers netminder Tyler Bunz in what is likely the best goaltending duel of the opening round.
Bunz was one of the most consistent puck stoppers in the WHL this season, which his numbers attest.
He ranks near the top of every statistical category with 39 wins, a 2.57 goalsagainst average and a .921 save percentage.
While Makarov - 29 wins, 3.01, .913 - doesn't quite measure up, his coach is hoping the intangible of playing at the world junior championship this season will help prepare the goaltender for his first WHL playoff start.
Makarov entered Russia's semifinal game against Canada late in the third period with his team stumbling badly and clinging to a onegoal advantage. Makarov held the fort to preserve the win and then made 57 saves as Russia lost 1-0 in overtime to Sweden in the gold medal game.
"The pressure that Andrey was under in January in the world junior championships, one can only imagine," said Blades head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken. "It's a situation where that might be playing in his favour. But we know what Bunz is all about. He's a terrific goaltender in his own right."
Makarov was acquired by the Blades with the 30th pick in the 2011 Import Draft after Lewiston folded.
After appearing in just 27 games a year ago, Makarov was handed the starter's job with the Blades when incumbent Adam Morrison was traded to the Vancouver Giants on Oct. 5.
He ended up making 52 starts and appeared in 54 games, totals that would have been much higher had he not missed most of January because of a concussion.
In addition to earning the Blades' team MVP award last Saturday, Makarov's play this season has given his teammates peace of mind.
"That gives you a lot of confidence, especially as a defenceman," said captain Duncan Siemens. "You know if you make a mistake, the goalie's there to back you up so you can play with a little fewer nerves.
"Having Andrey back there definitely puts you more at ease."
Despite the increased workload, Makarov said he "feels good" and that he's "ready to go" for tonight's road opener.
And that's music to Molleken's ears.
Since last missing the playoffs in 2007-08, the Blades have always started the WHL post-season at Credit Union Centre. They'll need Makarov to be at his best, particularly early in the series.
"He's been spectacular for us all year and the games against Medicine Hat this year, especially in their rink, he's won those games for us," said Molleken. "We're going to be counting on him here in Game 1 and Game 2."
For his part, the WHL playoff rookie said he's focused solely on what he must do to be successful and isn't concerned about what happens in the Tigers' crease.
Because, if he starts getting caught up in Bunz's play instead of his own, the Blades will be in tough.
"I just go on the ice and have good warm-up," said Makarov. "That's important for game. I never see the other goalie. I don't care about the other goalie and what he's doing."
"I'm excited. We must win. No chance for lose."
BLADE BITS: Right-winger Michael Burns did not practise Thursday, leaving his status for the series opener up in the air. He is listed as a game-time decision but hasn't practised with the team since sustaining an upperbody injury March 7. Also absent from Thursday's on-ice workout was goaltender Adam Todd (concussion), defenceman Tommy Stipancik (mononucleosis) and winger Locke Muller.
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