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'I JUST LOVE TO WIN'

Smith puts forth impressive performance in shutout of Wild

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

A hide the texture of an armadillo shell, admits Mike Smith, is as much a part of a goaltender's equipment as a set of nifty pads or a custom-made mask.

"You've gotta have tough skin," said the Flames' go-to guy post-game Thursday night. "And you've gotta have a short memory.
"That's the business.

"The business is a beast. That's part of the deal.

"When things aren't going well and you aren't playing a lot, it's frustrating. It's not like you lost it in one season.

"It's always been there.

"It's just about doing the things, about doing what it takes to get it back and not take it for granted."

At game's end Thursday, after hanging a 31-stop whitewash gem on the Minnesota Wild in 2-0 win, Smith - riding the crest of a wave just at the moment - executed a double-clutch first pump in celebration of career shutout No. 38.

"I just love to win, to be honest,'' he confessed. "And that's the only time of the game I can celebrate.

"Especially in a close game, it's nice to hear the horn go off at the end and get the two points.

"I could honestly care less about the shutout. It's just a bonus.

"I felt good. First of all, I think the guys have bailed me out a lot this year. So it's nice to make some saves and contribute on the team's success."

A run of four straight back-up appearances between Nov. 17 and 23, with David Rittich taking centre stage, gave the No. 1 the opportunity to re-calibrate and re-find his mojo.

Since returning to sentry duty, one goal against on 29 shots, one on 14, two on 24, three on 16, Thursday's goosegg on 31.

And, most importantly …

"That's five wins in a row," reminded goaltending tutor Jordan Sigalet. "When Smitty took those few days off with Ritter playing we just told him: 'It's going to be a re-set. Take your mind off playing games, just work on your game. Let pucks find you.'

"He was doing that in practice and now he's doing it in games.

"It's tough, that re-set. Most guys, when they're No. 1, they want to get through it by playing through it. You just want to not think about it, to get in a rhythm. We're seeing with quite a few goalies this year who've got off to tough starts and taken some games off to re-set. And Smitty's such a competitor, he'd play all 82 if we'd let him.

"When you're mental game's off a little bit, you're over-trying, over-thinking, and it affects your technical game.

"It was great to see him battle out there. Not an easy game. Lots of traffic. Lots of tips. And he found ways to make saves."

When asked if he was well and truly 'back', Smith smiled slightly.

"I think," he replied, "it's a double-edged sword. It's easy to say 'you're back' but in the next game anything can happen. You've just got to take it one game at a time and not get too far ahead of yourself.

"Not ride the roller coaster.

"It's easier said than done. When things are going well, you don't want to take it for granted. You want to keep it going. You want to keep doing the things that got you back on the rails. And if things aren't going your way you've got to stay as even-keel as possible and get it back.

"I don't think I'd say 'I'm back.' I'd say it's a work in progress every single day.

"You've just gotta keep your wits about you."
 

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