It wasn’t the prettiest of starts for the Edmonton Oilers in Game 1 of the Battle of Alberta against the Calgary Flames, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be the end of goalie Mike Smith.
Smith will be back tending twine for Game 2 on Friday.
“He’s been excellent for us,” Oilers coach Jay Woodcroft confirmed in a media avail Thursday morning. “Last night. I didn’t think our team was anywhere near where it needed to be. He didn’t play many minutes last night.
“But he’ll be going back in tomorrow.”
Smith allowed a goal on the game’s first shot just 26 seconds into the second-round series, and another 25 seconds after the first to put the Oilers down 2-0 before a minute ticked off the clock.
A third marker just over five minutes later chased him from the game, relegating the 40-year-old netminder to spectator duty to watch Mikko Koskinen battle for the final 54 minutes of an up-and-down, and eventually lopsided 9-6 loss to put Edmonton down 1-0 in the best-of-seven series.
“It’s not a great perspective, obviously, to be on the bench nine minutes into a hockey game in the playoffs,” declared Smith, who suggested he wasn’t keen on returning to the crease in the game. “Saying that, it’s one game. If they won it 2-1 or 9-6, it’s still one win and you’ve got to win four. It’s about regrouping now and not letting that affect the rest of the series and moving on and focusing on Game 2.”
Smith sparkled through a seven-game, opening-round series win against the Los Angeles Kings.
His .938 save percentage was third-best among opening round starters, and he posted a 2.29 goals-against average in over 400 minutes of work in helping the Oilers advance beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for just the second time since losing to the Carolina Hurricanes in the 2006 Final, and first since 2017.
But seven saves on 10 shots in six minutes of work quickly undid the first-round effort, with mild questioning over who Edmonton would turn to for Game 2.
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No need to question further.
“Mike is quite clear on the team’s faith in him and certainly the coaching staff’s faith in him,” Woodcroft added.
Still, tomorrow’s tilt with a two-game deficit or a split on the line will mark Smith’s ninth straight start of the season. He didn’t have more than four in a row in the regular season and hasn’t had a run of eight or longer in over two years.
Is the workload, one questioned, a little heavy for a system designed to more regularly split with Koskinen?
Not to Smith.
“No,” said Smith, who has spent time on both sides of the Battle of Alberta. “It’s the playoffs. You want to play your best hockey of the year and I’ve said it numerous times. It’s a long series, stuff happens… it’s about staying the course and not letting games like that affect you mentally and physically.
“This is about as good as I’ve felt all season long. It’s getting the job done when you get the opportunity. There’s no panic in your game. We learn and move on.”
The coach shared the same answer.
“I don’t think so,” Woodcroft said. “I think for Mike, he didn’t play a lot of hockey this year compared to a regular, normal season for Mike Smith. So the accumulation of rest over his first four or five months in the season, I think sets him up to play good hockey down the stretch.”
Perhaps just one of those nights then?
“I sure hope so,” Smith said.
“As a goalie, you can’t really control much other than what you’re doing. Whether the team’s playing good or bad, your job stays the same. You want to stop pucks and keep your team in the game and, obviously, it didn’t happen last night. Hopefully, learn from that and be better because of it.”
The Oilers will get the chance to show just that.
Because, as Smith said, a 9-6 loss, in the end, counts the same as a 2-1 defeat or any other setback, for that matter.
His team will be ready with the chance to earn a split and steal home ice with just one win in a pivotal Game 2 at the Saddledome on Friday.
And that’s the focus.
“We’re in the second round of the playoffs now,” Smith said. “There’s no surprises. You’d think everyone’s prepared and ready to go from the get-go, but it’s been somewhat of an issue here for our group in the games that we have lost.
“It happened. We can’t do anything about it now other than to learn from that experience and not let it happen again. Hopefully, we’ll be better because of it, be ready to play right from the start of the game tomorrow.
“If we come in here and get a split, we’ll be happy.”