Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - It's no secret the Phoenix Coyotes are
desperately trying to find an owner to deliver them from financial ruin.
However, while the Coyotes still are awaiting the arrival of a fiduciary
savior, they can always count on the man making saves in the crease.
For the first time since the franchise moved from Winnipeg to Arizona, the
Coyotes know what it feels like to win a playoff series and goaltender Mike
Smith is a big reason for that positive development.
Smith is coming off a fantastic first-round performance against a Chicago
Blackhawks team that threw everything it had at the net only to skate away in
frustration most of the time. In all, Chicago sent 229 pucks Smith's way over
the course of six games and the Phoenix backstop turned aside 95 percent of
Smith's heroics, which included a 39-save shutout in Monday's series-clinching
victory in Chicago, were absolutely essential for a team like Phoenix. The
Coyotes play a tight defensive game under head coach Dave Tippett and the
team was forced to play without the puck for much of its matchup against a
high-powered offense like Chicago's.
By the time this season's Pacific Division champions had salted away their 4-0
triumph in Game 6, the Blackhawks and their star forwards were shaking their
collective heads in disbelief.
"He stops everything he sees, and a few he doesn't see," said Blackhawks
forward Patrick Sharp, who led Chicago with 33 goals during the regular
season, but scored only once on 24 shots against Smith in the playoffs.
Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle aptly described his team's style of play
against the Blackhawks as "Rope-a-Dope," and while Phoenix bobbed and weaved,
Smith made sure that Chicago never landed a knockout blow.
The Blackhawks and Coyotes went to overtime in the first five games of the
series, and although Smith surrendered tying goals late in regulation a few
times over that stretch, the 30-year-old netminder always seemed able to
At this point, Smith's resiliency should come as no surprise. Since being
selected with a fifth-round pick by Dallas in 2001, Smith has had anything but
a clear path to success. After breaking through to the NHL with the Stars,
Smith was traded to Tampa Bay during the 2007-08 and was given numerous
chances to be that franchise's No. 1 goaltender.
Smith ultimately ended his tenure with the Lightning by signing a two-year, $2
million contract with the Coyotes last summer. Although the signing barely
registered as a story on July 1, as the 2011-12 season wore on it became
obvious both Smith and Phoenix had made a wise choice in each other.
Few people are happier about Smith's dominant performance than longtime
Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the only remaining player from Phoenix's days as
the Winnipeg Jets. Doan had been 0-8 in playoff series as a member of this
franchise before Smith led the way in the win over Chicago. That series
victory was the first for the franchise since the 1987 Jets ousted Calgary in
the opening round.
"It's a relief, because you just want to get a chance to do something in the
playoffs and make some noise," Doan said. "Everyone always talks about if you
get out of the first round, anything can happen. Now we've got to find a way
to win that next round and that's really our next goal."
It will be interesting to see how Smith and the Coyotes fare in their upcoming
Western Conference semifinal series with Nashville. Like Phoenix, the
Predators are a defense-first team that relies heavily on its goaltender,
In fact, with St. Louis and Los Angeles installed as the conference's other
semifinalists, the Western Conference playoff picture now consists entirely of
teams that rely primarily on defense and goaltending to be successful. If the
Coyotes want to represent the West in the Stanley Cup Finals, then Smith may
have to outplay some of the best goaltenders in the world.
Smith has been fighting for validation his whole career and is starting to
find it in Phoenix of all places. While the franchise still may be a long way
from becoming a successful business operation, Smith is doing his part to
finally earn the Coyotes a measure of respect on the ice.
The Sports Network