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'SMITTY, SMITTY, SMITTY'

The non-stop chants all night told the story - Mike Smith was simply spectacular

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

Not since Who Shot J.R.? back in 1980 has a question been so chewed over as the one on the lips of half the population in this town the past week.

Who Starts Game 1? in goal for the Flames had morphed into something bordering on obsession 'round these parts.

"I haven't quite heard anything like that before in my career," confessed the man who provided a definitive answer to the query, Mike Smith.

"Not in my 13 years in the league.

"It gives you confidence.

"It was something else. Special. Something I'll probably never forget."

Chants of "SmitTY! SmitTY! SmitTY!'' reverberated around every nook and cranny of the ol' Scotiabank Saddledome on Thursday evening, the way they had once upon a time for a certain Miikka Kiprusoff.  

For saves.

For an assist.

Even for tucking a couple of tribute hats tossed from the pews on top of his net ("Those are nice hats," enthused Smith. "Those are my style, too. Flat brims. I should've just taken them home with me. Don't know what happened to 'em").

"Great to see the fans really get behind him there," said skipper Mark Giordano. "You can tell when he's really feeling it.

"The one time I thought he might skate it all the way down the ice when he came out of the corner there in the third.

"He's a big part of our team. He works his butt of in practice all the time. He's such a good teammate, couldn't be happier for him.

"As a good friend, I was really, really excited to hear those chants at the end."

 

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With a lot of the pre-puck-drop chatter centred on the 10-years-younger Philipp Grubauer's instrumental part in the ascension of the Colorado Avalanche to playoff participants, the 37-year-old Smith, seven years removed from his last post-season, stole the thunder, producing 26 saves to get the playoff ball rolling in the right direction in a 4-0 Game 1 victory.

 "At this time of the year, you want to be at your best," said Smith afterwards. "You want to feel you're contributing.

"This has to be one of my better games of the year."

Selecting a Best Smith Glove Save on this night would be like asking to choose a best pizza joint in Napoli or a top Beatles tune.

Utterly impossible.

That catching glove of his was darting around with the speed of a serpent's tongue all evening, robbing both Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon with the game scoreless in the first and his side shorthanded.

Later on, in the third, he flashed that leather some more, denying the lethal MacKinnon again, this time a poison-dart fired off the rush, and Mikko Rantenen to preserve his second career post-season whitewash.

"I was a little nervous to be honest, too," Smith said of the back-and-forth opening stages. "I think our whole team was to start the game. But that's to be expected. It's a big moment, it's against a good hockey team and it's in front of your home fans and you want to make them proud. 

"I thought our guys stuck with it and we kind of got better and better as the game went on."

"I'm at my best when I'm playing with a little bit of an edge and a little of swagger out there.

"I think that's important for any professional athlete but especially a goalie."

 

Video: "I wanted this to be one of my biggest games."

 

And when his name was announced over the PA system as the primary assist on Calgary's fourth goal, sliding the puck over to Matthew Tkachuk to hit a vacated Colorado net, the place went completely bonkers.

"They've probably been a little upset at me a couple of mistakes,'' Smith joked. "But, yeah, that was a cool moment.

"Chucky made an unbelievable play when he got it, to stop-back and then score. I'm not back there to get assists, by any means, but it's nice to make good plays."

Did he ever take a look, even the teensiest-weensiest peek, at the cavernously vacant Avs' cage?

"I didn't look at the net once," he replied quickly, resisting the temptation to perform a cross-his-heart-and-hope-to-die gesture. "I honestly didn't even know he was out.

"That was probably better."

So, big night.

Great response.

But if any man alive can truly say he understands the whims of fate, how lickety-split things can turn, both personally and collectively, that person would be Smith.

"The whole game was cool," he said gratefully. "But you have to stay in the moment. It's one game. We understand that. I understand that.

"Game Two is a new game. Obviously it's fun to be part of a game like this and get a big win on home ice but it's done now.

"Now the focus is Game Two.

"It feels good. I'm not going to lie to you. That's a big confidence boost for our group. Here at home. First game of the series.

"It's a big win. A BIG win. But we've got to understand there's a long ways to go. A long ways to go.

"So enjoy it tonight. Then park it.

"And back to work."

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