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KIPPER-ESQUE!

Smith simply outstanding in 43-save performance en route to 2-1 win

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

Mark Giordano knows what it's like to be in the presence of a master.

"Kipper-worthy?" marvelled the captain. "Yeah, I'd say so. And that's high praise. The highest.

"If you look at the quality of their chances, the saves he made tonight … that's a good team, a championship team, armed with some of the best players in the world, playing at their best, I thought.

"Deflections, breakaways, one-timers … that's a goalie win, for sure.

"He's been our best player this year. It's not even close. "

Selecting a 'Best Mike Smith Save' from Thursday night's 2-1 OT win over the Pittsburgh Penguins would be as simple as picking a favourite Parisian restaurant, a top New Orleans jazz joint or a penultimate LeBron moment.

Yeah. Sure. Good luck with that.

"It was one of the best goalie performances I've seen in a long time,'' lauded Flames' coach Glen Gulutzan. "It gives you gives you confidence going into any building, when you know you have a goalie like that.

"Sitting on the bench, I always think 'comfort' is the wrong word, but there is a sense of assurance that you've got a guy in there that is battling every night and is one of the league's best goalies and that's a big thing.

"As the game went on, too, the way we came back for Smitty, is the big thing for our team. In the second and third, we showed him that we can play with the NHL's top team and there's no argument about it."

That opening 20 was so solid-bordering-on-brilliant that even Kiprusoff, the silent Finn, might've been envious.

Nineteen Penguin shots. Each and every one repelled.

"As a goalie,'' reasoned Smith afterwards, "you're standing back there and can't really control what's happening in front of you. You don't worry about the shot clock too much, just worry about making the next save.

"I know it's cliche coming from a goalie but it's the truth.

"Just tried to weather the storm there and we got going a little bit in the second."

Video: Smith talks about first-star performance in win

Smith had just produced what appeared to be an overtime-avoiding gem off Jake Guentzel late in the the third period, sent free on a lovely flip pass from Phil Kessel, before Patric Hornqvist deflected a Kris Letang shot behind him at 18:48 of the third period.

"It got deflected in the slot,'' said Smith. "Unfortunate.

"I (couldn't) care less about the shutout, to be honest. The two points are way more important.

"It was obviously disappointing for them to tie it up late like that but we stuck with it."

Ever the scrapper, in the OT, much to Pittsburgh's dismay, Smith was up to his old devilish tricks again, turning back Conor Sheary, on a lovely little drop pass from Sidney Crosby, and then the lethal Kessel to make Giordano's poison-dart to the top short-side corner on Penguin rookie netminder Tristan Jarry at 2:19 possible.

Calgary's winner was all that Smith deserved. After the puck had hopped over his stick near the blueline, seconds before the Hornqvist tying tip, Matthew Tkachuk responded like a trouper, executing a wonderful pass, drawing Penguins to him, for Giordano to bury.

"Huge,'' said Smith. "Huge. It (the Pens' goal) was unfortunate but that kid, he's like the heart and soul of our team. He's in every battle, he's got his nose over the puck.

"It's fun him being on my team, unlike last year when I had to play against him and he was in my face all game."

Back-to-back 2-1 wins over Eastern powerhouses the mettle of the Washington Capitals and the Pens can't help but do wonders for the Flames' confidence.

"No matter how many shots you give up, it's still rewarding to beat two good clubs like that,'' agreed Smith. "If you're going to win down the stretch and in the playoffs, you're going to have to win tight hockey games and it's a learning process for this whole group.

"To win games against good teams is priceless."

To have goaltending the calibre he's provided this year so far coming over to a new organization is priceless, too.

That, first and foremost, is what allows you to win against good teams.

"I honestly think we're going to break out (offensively) one of these games,'' said Giordano. "We're getting a lot of looks, too. They brought it in the first, we had a good second period and they were good again in the third. But you expect that for a team like that.

"When your goalie gives you a performance like we got, it's pretty hard to lose.

"You want to get that one for him. You feel pretty miserable when they got one late and he didn't get the shutout.

"But - and I keep repeating myself - what a performance."

From a guy who's watched a master at work, Kipper-worthy.

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