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SMITH STANDS TALL

Gulutzan says his goaltender was 'outstanding' in win

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / calgaryflames.com

A deep, bordering-on-slow-motion knee bend followed by the exaggerated jackhammer fist/arm pump.

Hardly the reaction of just a run-of-the-mill pre-season victory.

"We didn't want it to feel like one,'' explained goalie Mike Smith post-game. "We've played too many of those this pre-season.

"I think it was nice to get into a game where it felt like the tempo was up. There was physicality out there. The adrenalin was going a little bit.

"The compete level was up. We were quick. And we won a lot more battles, I thought.

"We've been talking about it a lot, but we did a lot of good things tonight. Something to build on."

With Wednesday's curtain-raiser up north in Edmonton fast approaching, a 3-2 shootout slap-down of the Winnipeg Jets could be a considered precisely the tonic for the Flames needed at just the right moment.

Befitting the proximity of Go Time, Saturday delivered more of a prickly, lickety-split regular-season flavour. And the locals embraced the heightened sense of hostilities.

"That was ramped up,'' said winger Kris Versteeg, who cashed Calgary's first goal of the evening. "Both teams were going. They obviously had some key players out but they had a lot of guys playing hard.

"It was an … energetic exhibition game. We more dialled in, less messing around. More the game we want to play, assert ourselves in certain ways, line combinations and stuff like that. I thought we did a good job.

"Like I said, it was pre-season but it definitely had a regular-season intensity to it."

From a building-block standpoint, there was many ingredients for the Flames to draw on as they begin final prep for reigning MVP Connor McDavid and the northern villains.

The intensity/battle level that coach Glen Gulutzan felt sorely lacking too often over this pre-season was back in evidence, in spades. The Calgary PK staved off six of seven Jets' opportunities and its powerplay, looking far more authoritative, clicked twice.

First and foremost, front and centre among the positives, though, had to be the sharpness of Smith.

"He kept us in there multiple times,'' praised Versteeg. "Especially that 5-on-3 arm save in the second period back-door.

"He's a heckuva goalie for a reason."

Thirty-nine stops over the regulation 60 - eight of them against Mark Schiefele alone - before turning back all three tries shootout tries - from, in order of appearance, Kyle Connor, Patrick Laine and Nic Petan.

Sean Monahan scored the lone SO goal, on Winnipeg netminder Steve Mason.

In a penalty saturated, special-teams dominated game, Gulutzan felt the variety of situations Smith faced was beneficial in targeting Wednesday.

"From a goalie standpoint, he got a little bit of everything right? Three-on-three, four-on-three, five-on-three.

"Huge saves. I thought it was a great building block for him. I thought he was outstanding.

"The one thing I don't want to happen is 41 shots. Though I know in Phoenix, when I was back in Dallas we put up a lot of shots on him (and lost). That's maybe why I'm coaching here.

"He has the ability to win a game. The volume of shots he can stop when he gets in a groove, he's very hard to beat.

"I saw a little bit of that tonight."

Video: Smith said it was a good win for the team

So did the man entrusted with making sure everything is hunky-dory in Smith's professional world.

"Just for his confidence, his mindset, it was great,'' said goaltending confidante Jordan Sigalet. "The big thing giving him the last two here was to get him in a rhythm going into Wednesday.

"He's excited. Hopefully we see a lot more of that. He proved tonight why we got him and what he can do for this team.

"He can take a team and carry it on his back if you're having a bit off of an off-night.

"If you struggle, you start to overthink everything. Then you have a game like that, it helps you re-set, puts everything back in perspective, back in order.

"Our guys feed off that, too."

Nothing to be done about the two Jet goals.

The first one to elude Smith, a Patrick Laine poison dart from the high slot off the rush, was, in a word, unstoppable. Nothing more than a rumour whistling over his blocker.

The second, same guy, same thing.

"If they were going to beat me, they were going to beat me with a good shots. Both those goals were world-class shots," said Smith.

"I was just focused on that tonight. Being in good position, making them beat me with shots. Too many shots in pre-season have gone through me. None did tonight.

"l just felt … solid. There was a lot of work out there but I needed it.

"So I'm feeling good. Ready to go for the regular-season."

Bring it on.

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