When Andrey Makarov was given the night off by head coach and general manager Lorne Molleken last Saturday in Prince Albert, it’s not like he went to the bench and soaked in the sun.
The Saskatoon Blades netminder was still in full uniform – save for his Bane goalie mask – and had to stay alert from the bench during their WHL regular season finale.
Still, it was a much needed change of pace.
“I think that was a great move for Lorne,” said Makarov, who will be back between the pipes Thursday when the Blades open their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Medicine Hat Tigers.
“I was appreciative for that with the day off. I was a little bit tired. He knows that probably. He feels that. I wasn’t playing really good in the last (few) games. I think I’m ready for playoffs right now.”
The decision to sit Makarov in favour of backup Alex Moodie was largely based on the fact the Blades were locked into their second seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
However, the reason for the day off didn’t matter to Makarov.
Aside from the 10 games he missed while competing for Russia at his second-straight world junior championship, the six-foot-one, 193-pound Kazan native appeared in every game until the final contest.
Makarov started 31 games in a row from Jan. 11 to March 15, but was pulled in two of his last five starts.
But he insisted his recent struggles are behind him.
“I feel ready to go to the final and win four rounds,” Makarov said. “I hope we can do that.”
Molleken believes Makarov – the Blades’ MVP for the second-straight year – should be in fine form for the start of the playoffs.
He isn’t buying that Ma-karov – who played 3,487 minutes, fifth-most in the league – has been overworked.
“Not at all,” Molleken said.
He added that Makarov has the temperament to be successful in the post-season because of his experience winning medals in each of the last two under-20 tournaments.
“He’s the type of goaltender where things don’t bother him,” Molleken said. “He has fun playing the game.
“He’s played in some of the biggest games in the world with the world juniors. So he understands the pressures that comes along with playing in big games.
“We need him to be a guy that can win some hockey games for us.”
Makarov has shown he can be counted on by the Blades.
After carrying a 3.13 goals-against average and a .897 save percentage into November, Makarov rebounded nicely.
He tied for the league lead with 37 wins and seven shutouts. He broke Braden Holtby’s team records for shutouts in a season and a career.
Thanks to an 18-game winning streak from Jan. 27 to March 1, Makarov finished the season with a goals-against average of 2.62 and a save percentage of .919.
Now it’s time for a new challenge.
The 19-year-old, who played in the QMJHL for Lewiston in 2010-11, is still in search of the first major-junior playoff win of his career.
He allowed 17 goals as the Tigers swept the Blades a year ago. But Makarov said he’s refreshed and able to help his team change its fortunes.
“This is the first game in the playoff and we played against Medicine Hat last year,” he said. “I think it’s not really a good experience for us last year. We’re supposed to be getting (them) back right now and win all four games now.
“We have a good team last year and we have a good team this year. It’s nothing different for (the) team. Everything is in your head. The guys are ready for games. It’s mental.”
BLADE BITS: C/W Erik Benoit did not practise Wednesday and isn’t likely to play in Game 1 because of a lower-body injury. Benoit left last Friday’s game midway through the first period after being checked by Prince Albert forward Carson Perreaux.
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