It was a bit of deja vu for goaltender Mike Smith and the Phoenix Coyotes on Tuesday night, albeit in a good way.
Smith registered 23 saves and blanked the Vancouver Canucks for the second time this season, leading the Coyotes to a 1-0 victory. Tuesday’s win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Coyotes dating back to early last month, before the NHL went on hiatus for the Winter Olympics, and they gained some much-needed ground in a fierce battle for the second and final Western Conference wildcard playoff spot.
Five teams, including both the Coyotes and Canucks, could feasibly clinch the highly-coveted postseason invite in a tight race expected to go down to the wire.
Smith also stymied the Canucks in a January 16 contest, another game the Coyotes won by an identical 1-0 score. Smith also shut out the Los Angeles Kings less than two weeks later on January 29. There’s been a noticeable difference in Smith’s game since the uncertainty ceased over whether or not he’d make Team Canada’s roster for the recently concluded Winter Olympics.
After Smith finally received official word that he was indeed headed to Sochi, he started settling down, putting less pressure on himself in his quest to return to true form as one of the league’s elite netminders, despite the fact that he’s been highly underrated this season due to a heavy workload and frequent lack of reciprocation from his teammates on the offensive end of the ice. Defensive support has been lacking throughout the season as well, and Smith has now faced a total of 1,582 opposing shots on goal, more than any other NHL netminder.
Nonethless, Smith hasn’t complained, instead insisting that making saves is his job no matter how many pucks are rifled at his net on a given night.