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X-Factor: Smith's breakout year could be difference

Sunday, 04.08.2012 / 1:00 PM / X-Factors - 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

By Brian Compton - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor

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X-Factor: Smith's breakout year could be difference

Solid goaltending is always vital in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and Mike Smith has provided that for the Coyotes throughout this season.

Mike Smith
Mike Smith
Goalie - PHX
RECORD: 38-18-10
GAA: 2.21 | SVP: 0.930
While many thought Phoenix would take a step back after Ilya Bryzgalov headed to Philadelphia for greener pastures, Smith stepped in and saw to it that Phoenix didn't even miss a beat.

Bryzgalov, you'll recall, won 130 games during the course of four seasons in the desert and helped the Coyotes make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2010 and 2011. He was ultimately replaced by Smith, who had never won more than 14 games in a season at the NHL level.

Signed through next season at a bargain price of $2 million annually, Smith came within striking distance of the 40-win plateau and boasted a shutout streak of more than 200 minutes during the final week of the season to assure the Coyotes of a playoff spot.

"Smitty's been unbelievable," Phoenix coach Dave Tippett said. "Time after time, he's made big saves for us."

Should Smith carry that momentum into the postseason, it can change the complexion of Phoenix's first-round series. Smith's very best will be required, considering the competitiveness and parity that has defined the Western Conference this season. But, there's no reason why Smith shouldn't be the backbone that he's been for the Coyotes in the regular season.

"It's been an honor to play in front of our fans and fun to play in the desert this year," Smith said.

Follow Brian Compton on Twitter: @BComptonNHL

Quote of the Day

I'm just excited about the opportunity. I've been on the ice earlier than usual and in the weight room, pushing around a little more weights than usual. Every day I go into a workout with a smile on my face and ready to go. When you do have a little more responsibility, you want to take your lunch pail and get ready to work.

— Brian Elliott to Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch on being the Blues' No. 1 goalie