Smith, Flames come up big in heavy test against Predators

Mike Smith made 43 saves for the shutout as the Calgary Flames defeated the Nashville Predators.

NASHVILLE – These are the types of efforts that make people believe the Calgary Flames are entering that window.

You know, the window in which it’s believed a team has assembled enough talent and depth to not only make the playoffs, but potentially thrive in them.

Oh yeah, it’s early.

Granted.

But marching into one of the toughest rinks in the league to bust up a Presidents’ Trophy banner-raising party with an effort as stacked as a Broadway barmaid could do wonders for a retooled team’s confidence.

A 3-0 win over the Nashville Predators included answers to two of the biggest questions facing the Flames this season – goaltending and special teams.

Mike Smith’s 43-save performance for his 37th career shutout reeked of his brilliant start last season when he was a first-half all-star.

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“That was better,” smiled Smith, peeling off the Calgary Police service hat as player of the game.

“They’re a good team. When you come into this building we knew it would be a hard-fought battle. It was their opening night and we wanted to play spoiler. We got timely goals, the big penalty kill and a big two points to start the trip.”

The Flames’ plan to sit Smith Thursday to give David Rittich the start may be revisited now, given Smith’s return to a form he hadn’t found the first two games.

“The last two games were weird games – low shots and a lot of chances and weird flow,” said Smith, whose workload will be closely monitored at age 36.

“I definitely felt a lot more like myself tonight.”

If the Flames are in fact going to make a statement this year by returning to the playoffs, he’ll have to feel like himself more often.

A good chunk of his highlight pack came midway through the game when the Flames faced a full two minutes down two men, calling on Smith to steal the show while Mikael Backlund, Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie played strong supporting roles.

It came at a time when the Flames were clinging to a 2-0 lead courtesy of power-play goals by linemates Elias Lindholm and Sean Monahan who each scored their third goals of the year.

Monahan would later add his fourth on a night in which Johnny Gaudreau picked up three helpers.

The offensive depth this team worked so hard to add this summer has yet to surface, but none of it matters when the three aforementioned big guns are piling up points as they have.

All told the line has eight goals and eight assists in three outings.

“I think me and Lindy think the game the same way and Johnny’s got the speedy legs – he likes to find you in open ice,” said Monahan.

“It’s nice to get a start like that and put some pucks to the net.”

And get a win in a building few teams leave victorious.

It was huge for the confidence of a group playing with a third pair of defencemen who had combined for 13 NHL games heading in – Juuso Valimaki and Rasmus Andersson.

Valimaki’s almost 18 minutes of play included a few crucial minutes killing penalties, demonstrating poise beyond his 20 years of age.

Ditto for Dillon Dube who spent almost two minutes killing penalties, blocking shots and continuing to impress with an all-around game no one expected him to bring to the NHL this early in his career.

Andersson didn’t look at all out of place either on a night in which the Flames rearguards all played well.

Predators sniper Filip Forsberg said on the Sportsnet broadcast between periods he figured the 21 shots fired Mike Smith’s way in the second period were, “so harmless (I) could have made those saves.”

Filip may have spent too much time at Tootsie’s or Bruno Mars the night before as Smith was called time and time again to come up with big saves including massive windups from P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and a Ryan Hartman shot he snagged with his glove in spectacular fashion.

Damned with the off-ice distractions Music City so famously offers, the Flames won their third game in a row here. Some nerve.

Perhaps they need to spend even more time in cities with motorized scooters like the ones plenty of the lads bombed around town on the last two days.

The win marks an amazing swing from where the team and its fan base was after an opening night loss in Vancouver that included a power play that went 0 for 7.

Since then the team that finished 28th last year with the man advantage has gone 5 for 10.

“A lot of special teams,” said Gaudreau when asked what the key to the win on Tuesday was.

“We’ve gotten a lot better since that first game in Vancouver – we did a lot of work on that power play.

“Five on five we’ve been playing well too. It’s a good start to the road trip.”

The Flames play in St. Louis Thursday and Colorado Saturday before returning home.

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