Antoine Vermette and Mike Smith Powering Phoenix’s Playoff Push
Antoine Vermette’s first period tally in Game 2 of Phoenix’s second round match-up marked the fifth time that the pivot has scored in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Vermette’s 8 playoff points (5 Goals, 3 Assists) haven’t exactly set him apart from the rest of the Phoenix lineup, but he leads the team in playoff goals and is scoring them at crucial moments of the game.
Dave Tippett currently has Vermette on a line with Mikkel Boedker and Shane Doan and the move is paying its dividends as the line has 16 total playoff points. The Coyotes are getting contributions from all four of their lines and with defensemen such as Keith Yandle jumping into the play (7 playoff Assists), Phoenix looks as though they will give Nashville a run for their money.
On the other hand, Mike Smith has provided the type of goaltending that can help a team go very far in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Smith’s 2.03 GAA and .943 Save Percentage helped Phoenix get past the Blackhawks and the netminder is proving that his play should be taken seriously as he has faced the most shots in the playoffs (316) out of any goalie in the Eastern or Western Conference.
After Smith’s career had seemingly gone south in Tampa Bay, the Coyotes were criticized for giving the goalie a shot at a starting job, especially with an opportunity to re-sign Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov and Smith both have 5 postseason victories so far, but Smith has certainly been the better goalie as his GAA is almost 2 full points better than Bryzgalov’s and has faced 127 more shots than the Philadelphia goalie.
The Coyotes might not have been given much of an opportunity to advance very far in this year’s playoffs, but they have proved the naysayers wrong so far.
Many are waiting for Phoenix to be ousted from the playoffs so that the team’s possible relocation issue can be solved, but the chances of staying in Glendale increase with every Coyote victory. Even if those chances only increase slightly, it must be reassuring for Coyotes fans to know that their team still cares about winning despite all of the uncertainty regarding the team’s future in Phoenix.
Smith and Vermette have given fans a reason for hope and a push to the Stanley Cup Finals might not be as far-fetched as it sounds if the pair keep up their solid play.
Phoenix’s defensive players, particularly Rostislav Klesla and Keith Yandle, have been jumping in on plays as they have recorded 13 combined points in 8 playoff games. The Coyotes seem to be firing on all cylinders as the team has stormed out to a 2-0 series lead on the Nashville Predators, but the onus will be on players to maintain their level of consistency throughout the playoffs as the team looks to make its first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals as an expansion franchise.
The Phoenix Coyotes might not be the most experienced playoff team, but they sure are playing like one.
As long as Antoine Vermette and Mike Smith continue to keep up their stellar play, the Coyotes will be an extremely hard team to beat. Mike Smith has shown that his strong regular season play was not a fluke and if hockey history has proven anything, it is that a hot goalie and some balanced scoring can carry any team to Lord Stanley’s Cup and hockey immortality.