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First Round

Smith puts on show in shutout for Flames against Avalanche in Game 1

Huge saves, assist wow home crowd, highlight stirring series-opening victory

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

CALGARY -- For Mike Smith, it began with fans chanting his name in encouragement after a modest bit of first-period goaltending.

But the cries of "Smit-ty! Smit-ty!" thundered through Scotiabank Saddledome early in the second period on Thursday, the Calgary Flames goalie making two breathtaking glove saves on the same Colorado Avalanche power play with each team looking for its first goal.

Thanks to those huge, timely saves, along with a third-period assist on forward Matthew Tkachuk's second goal of the game, Smith was instrumental in the Flames' 4-0 victory in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Western Conference First Round.

Game 2 is at Calgary on Saturday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, ALT).

 

[RELATED: Complete Flames vs. Avalanche series coverage]

 

Smith made 26 saves for his fourth career Stanley Cup Playoff shutout, his previous three coming with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2011-12. On Thursday, he became the first goalie in Flames history to register a shutout in a series-opening game and the 12th goalie in NHL history to go at least 2,500 days between playoff games; his previous one was on May 22, 2012, a 4-3 Coyotes season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Kings in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final.

The cheers Thursday were music to Smith's ears, the 37-year-old having often heard derisive chants from Flames fans this season, enduring struggles splitting the workload with David Rittich.

Smith ranked 37th of 41 NHL goalies with 35 or more games played this season with an .898 save percentage; his 2.72 goals-against average ranked him 18th. Even if his game sharpened late in the season, there was great debate among many as to who should get the Game 1 start.

But there wasn't a discouraging word heard during Smith's tour de force Game 1 performance, one as good as you'll see in the cauldron of the playoffs.

"It felt a lot better than the other," Smith said with a grin of hearing his name chanted enthusiastically. "I haven't heard anything quite like that before in my 13 years in this league."

Smith's assist on Tkachuk's empty-net goal that iced the game with 2:45 to play was the final touch on a near-perfect night for him; and no, he insisted, having worn a mask that paid tribute to Flames goaltending legend Mike Vernon, he had no designs on trying to score into the net that had been vacated by Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer for a sixth skater.

Video: COL@CGY, Gm1: Tkachuk scores second goal to seal win

"I didn't look at the net once," Smith said. "I honestly didn't even know [Grubauer] was out."

The only disappointment of the game might have been the two hats that got away. Fans happily threw a pair of caps onto the ice late in the game and Smith put them on top of his net, where they were picked up by the ice crew.

"Those were nice hats," he said. "Those were my style too, flat brims. I should have taken them home with me. I don't know where they went."

Smith's two saves on the second-period Avalanche power play that led to his nickname roaring through the rafters were a double exclamation mark on what was the 100th playoff victory in Flames history.

With Calgary defenseman T.J. Brodie off for hooking at 49 seconds of the second period, Smith led off with a circus stop on Avalanche forward Gabriel Landeskog, who bulled through the slot and sharply lifted a backhand against the grain. Smith's glove devoured that one, the goalie barrel-rolling through the crease to bring the fans out of their seats.

And then there was a save 34 seconds later -- one less spectacular but every bit as important -- on a 35-foot snap by forward Derick Brassard, another flash of leather that finished with a flourish, more praise raining down from the stands. 

"He's really been turning it on as of late," Tkachuk said of Smith. "I'm really happy where his game is trending right now."

Video: COL@CGY, Gm1: Smith denies Brassard with glove save

Two Grade-A Colorado scoring chances perishing in Smith's trapper might not have fully swung the momentum, but a goal then by the pressing Avalanche would have hugely changed the game's complexion. The stops seemed to give the Flames a lift, as if they knew a calculated risk offensively wouldn't burn them if the play turned the other way.

Rookie forward Andrew Mangiapane and Tkachuk scored 4:33 apart for Calgary in the second period, with center Mikael Backlund and Tkachuk again, into the empty net, putting it out of reach with goals scored 14 seconds apart late in the third.

Smith would make another marvelous glove save on center Nathan McKinnon midway through the final period, the Saddledome love-in in full swing by then.

And if the goalie embellished the glove saves a little, that only added to their entertainment value.

"I'm at my best when I'm playing with a little bit of an edge and a little bit of swagger," Smith said. "That's important for any professional athlete, especially a goalie."

Video: COL@CGY, Gm1: Smith makes glove save on MacKinnon

They were grand saves on Landeskog and Brassard, but he was quick to spread credit among the Flames' penalty-killers.

"I thought our killers did an unbelievable job, to kill off all those penalties," Smith said, the Avalanche 0-for-4 with a man advantage, the Flames 2-for-5. "I was able to make a couple of big saves in the second and then we go down the ice and [Mangiapane] scores a big goal for us. That's a big momentum swing in the game."

Clearly satisfied with his effort and the Flames' Game 1 win, Smith was ready to turn the page before he hit the showers.

"It's a big moment against a good hockey team, it's in front of your home fans and you want to make them proud," he said. "I thought our guys stuck with it and we got better and better as the game went on, and we were able to win the first game of the series, which is big.

"That's a big confidence builder for our group but we understand there's a long, long way to go. Enjoy it tonight, park it, then get back to work." 

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