It's a hockey cliché that you win or lose as a team. But for Phoenix captain Shane Doan, one Coyote has become indispensable to the team's success.
Goaltender Mike Smith was an unheralded free-agent signing last summer who led the Coyotes to the first division title in franchise history and has backstopped the team into the conference finals for the first time since it joined the NHL in 1979. To Doan, he's the guy they can't do without.
"He's as valuable to our team as there is a player in the League," Doan said during a conference call with the media on Thursday. "Obviously he's proven himself, but last series he got to go against Pekka Rinne who is nominated for the Vezina. And this series he gets to go against Jonathan Quick. Another guy nominated for the Vezina.
"We're going to go as far as Smitty can carry us."
In the eyes of Doan, perhaps the most impressive thing about Smith is his competitive nature.
"I don't think you could ever beat his competitiveness out of him," Doan said. "It's not like you could get four goals on him, and he's like, 'oh, man. I've had a bad game. I'm going to [quit], this isn't my game.' It's like, 'well, there is no way you're getting that fifth one.'
"That is kind of what I get from him. He's so competitive."
The Coyotes signed Smith last summer after trading free agent-to-be Ilya Bryzgalov partly because coach Dave Tippett knew him from their time together in Dallas. Tippett also felt that Smith, a big goaltender at 6-foot-3, would work well with Coyotes goaltending coach Sean Burke, who was among the NHL's tallest goaltenders during his playing days.
"I had history with Mike in Dallas, and I thought he was a player that if he got the opportunity could really flourish," Tippett said. "I thought the relationship between him and Sean Burke would be a very good one. Both of them are similar kinds of goalies and have gone through similar issues in their career. Mike came in, was looking for an opportunity. We had an opportunity to give. And the work he and Sean have done together has given us a very, very good player."
"I really believe through this year he's evolved into one of the elite goaltenders in the League, and certainly that's been on display in the playoffs."
Tippett said one reason for the Coyotes' springtime success is the fact that he's confident in his own play -- and that his teammates share that confidence.
"We always talk about confidence is earned," Tippett said. "If you look at the year he's had and the work he's put in, he's earned that confidence. I would second that in the fact not only is he confident in his own play, he's earned the trust and the confidence of the players in front of him. So when a goaltender can do that, it leads to a very competitive team."