There are a number of teams with hot goaltenders entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but none on a better run than the NHL's First Star for this past week.
Phoenix Coyotes netminder Mike Smith took the honor as he put together a lengthy shutout streak and led the team to its first division title and the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference.
A pair of superstars who once shared the Rocket Richard Trophy had big weeks of their own. Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos became the first player in four years to reach the 60-goal plateau and claimed the Rocket Richard all to himself, earning Second Star, while Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby concluded his abbreviated regular season in dominant fashion, extending his point-scoring streak to five games to be named Third Star.
Smith entered the week with back-to-back shutouts and made it three in a row in historic fashion last Tuesday against the Blue Jackets. With 54 saves, he set an NHL record for the most saves in a shutout performance. And while Smith's run of perfection came to an end at 234 minutes, 25 seconds in the following game Friday against the Blues, he stopped 31 of 32 pucks that night and 23 of 24 against the Wild in the season finale Saturday as the Coyotes became the team to finally claim the topsy-turvy Pacific Division.
Goalie - PHX
GAA: 2.21 | SVP: 0.930
"He's embraced the No. 1 goaltender role with our team and he's played excellent," coach Dave Tippett said. "He had a few games there where he was basically willing us into the playoffs. His game is top-notch right now. Hopefully it goes into the playoffs and that continues."
Stamkos, who scored 51 goals two seasons ago when he shared the Rocket Richard with Crosby, went on a late tear, with 10 goals over his final nine games to reach territory unchartered since Alex Ovechkin scored 65 in the 2007-08 season. He had a pair of goals in the final 63 seconds of an April 2 win over Washington, including the game-winner, and after being blanked by Montreal he answered the bell with single goals against both Toronto and Winnipeg to reach the magic mark. He ended up finishing 10 goals ahead of the runner-up, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin.
"When [Stamkos] broke into the League, everybody was so scared of his one-timer from the top of the slot," said teammate Martin St. Louis, who set up his 60th goal. "He started having success like that, and then [opponents] started taking it away and it becomes harder and harder. So, [a scorer] feel like [he] has to re-invent [himself] all the time. He's done that this year."
Meanwhile, Crosby has to feel good about his game after compiling four multi-point efforts during his current run, including three in four games last week. He had game-winning goals against both the Bruins and the Flyers in Saturday's regular-season finale. In just 22 games this season, Crosby finished with 8 goals and 37 points. Six of those goals came in his last nine games.
"We wanted to finish strong and I think we did that the last few games," Crosby said as the Penguins head into a first-round series with the rival Flyers. "The real thing starts now. I expect a pretty intense series if anything prior to this is any indication. Those are the kind of series you want to be part of, you're excited to be part of."