CALGARY — There are different kinds of goalies, and the Calgary Flames have seen both over the years.
They had Miikka Kiprusoff, who would say as much after a shutout as he would after he’d let in six. The quiet Finn we called “Turku Broda” did his leading on the ice, and left the ‘rah, rah’ stuff to everyone else.
Then there is current netminder Mike Smith, who allowed four goals on 26 shots against the New York Islanders Sunday night, then walked into a post-game media scrum and let his teammates have it.
“It’s right here: mental,” the 35-year-old said after Sunday night’s loss, pointing to his temple. “Every guy has got to play out of their comfort zone. Our top guys have got to do the little things it takes to win — block shots and chip pucks. And our bottom six guys have got to contribute offensively and do the little things also.
“We can’t have any passengers if we’re going to right the ship here and make a big push.”
It was a scalding scolding that only a true leader could, or would, deliver. But Smith is a guy who’d banked enough credit this season to say what needed to be said, regardless of outcome or performance.
Then, on Tuesday, he did what real leaders do, following up with a 1-0 shutout of the Edmonton Oilers, putting his team on his back in a must-win game at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Smith robbed Ryan Strome twice and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins once on the toughest three saves of the night by either ‘tender.
It was a virtuoso performance when his team needed it the most, snapping a seven-game losing streak versus Edmonton and picking up two points in the Western Conference playoff race on a night where Dallas lost in regulation and Los Angeles fell in a shootout at Arizona.
“It starts with your play on the ice,” Smith said. “It’s hard to talk in the room to you (media) guys, when you don’t go out there and do your job.”
Cam Talbot was magnificent at the other end as well, beaten only on a deft backhand by Johnny Gaudreau, who snuck in behind the Edmonton defence to earn far more time and space than a scorer of his pedigree requires.
“I made some big saves but couldn’t match Mike,” said Talbot, who stopped 31 shots to Smith’s 28. “After last game, he was very vocal about their starts and he came out and settled them down and made the huge saves when he needed to. Credit to him — he played a hell of a game. Usually when you only give up one you’re in pretty good business.”
This was a character check for Calgary, a team that had won just once in regulation time at the Saddledome in its last 11 tries. After 40 minutes the Flames held a scant 1-0 lead, which was fitting when you consider the current state of their playoff chances. But this moment came with some gravity.
The Flames had 78 points prior to puck drop of Game 71 against Edmonton. Dallas (80 points) had already completed a 4-2 loss at Montreal, and was boarding the charter for a back-to-back in Toronto Wednesday. The Los Angeles Kings (81 points, third in the Pacific) were playing backup goalie Jack Campbell at Arizona and were trailing 2-0 after 20 minutes before eventually salvaging a point in a shootout loss.
This was pure opportunity for Calgary. A 20-minute push, and its playoff hopes wouldn’t only live another day, they would grow a little with just 11 games left in Calgary’s season.
Smith opened the period with the save of the night, doing the splits to stop Nugent-Hopkins’ hard one-timer off a brilliant feed by Connor McDavid, who was held pointless despite being the most dangerous skater on the ice Tuesday.
From there the Oilers pressed, but Calgary played the way a winning team is supposed to play. Even with Talbot on the bench and Dougie Hamilton in the penalty box for the final 1:53, Calgary played like a team that simply wasn’t going to allow these points to get away.
“To see guys lying down, blocking shots, guys getting over the red or the blue and dumping pucks in…,” marveled defenceman Travis Hamonic. “We had a one-goal lead and we were riding our goalie, and we felt we didn’t need to win the game 5-0.
“Come playoff time, this is how you win games.”
That’s exactly what Smith said on Sunday.
It ain’t bragging, if you can back it up.