There was no room for surprises last night at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary. The Flames opened their playoff campaign convincingly, defeating Colorado Avalanche with 4-0.
Though, it wasn’t that easy for the home team. It could have been much different if it weren’t for goalie Mike Smith, who had 26 saves this night, some of them amazing.
“He played with a lot of juice tonight. Smith has been doing it for a long time and has been playing his best hockey in the last six weeks, and it showed tonight,” Flames coach Bill Peters said after the game.
For the first time in franchise history, one goaltender opened the playoff series with a shootout. But more importantly for the Flames, in the crucial moments of this clash, Smith was there to not only protect his goal, but to wake up the crowd and create momentum for his team.
Before Andrew Mangiapane scored the first goal for the hosts, Smith had two superb glove saves which prevented the Avalanche from getting the lead and using the power-play.
The game could have gone either way before that first score. The Avalanche played very well, not allowing for the hosts to impose their tempo and style of play on the ice. We could say without hesitation, that it wouldn’t be odd that they won if managed to score first.
Luckily for the home team, Smith was there.
Colorado’s captain Gabriel Landeskog admitted that after the match, stating that Calgary’s goalie was the reason for his team’s loss.
“Margin of error and the difference isn’t big this time of year, but he was definitely a difference-maker,” Landeskog said of Smith.
Mike Smith's glove is on 🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/0u4NnTcRi5
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) April 12, 2019
After Mangiapane netted the first goal, 14:25 in the second, Flames quickly scored another one, with a little bit more than a minute before the end of that sequence.
Mark Giordano made a shot towards Grubauer’s goal, and on his way, Matthew Tkachuk tipped it in. At first, it appeared that Tkachuk made a goaltender interference, and Colorado’s coach Jared Bednar challenged the call. After reviewing, the decision stayed the same.
That only motivated the visiting team to start pressuring even more, and once again it was Smith who made huge saves in the third period. He stopped several good shots of Avalanche’s players and had a little bit of luck when Nathan MacKinnon hit the bar.
The fans were starting to chant Smith’s name, which was probably a huge lift for the goaltender who didn’t have a nice history with the crowd in Calgary.
His interventions boosted the morale of the Avalanche, while on the other side, made the guests desperate. Three minutes before the end of the game, Mikael Backlund scored No.3 for the home team, and only 15 seconds after that, Tkachuk put it in an empty net, to solve everything.
Smith assisted the left winger, who was absolutely thrilled with the performance of his teammate. After the game, Tkachuk emphasized the influence Smith had on the final outcome.
“He was awesome tonight, made a couple of great glove saves, big pad saves,” Tkachuk said. “Not many people see that.”
The star of the match himself was stunned with the chants and commented that in his career he never encountered anything like it.
"In front of your home fans, you want to make them proud."
Mike Smith sounds off on tonight's 4-0 win over the Avs. pic.twitter.com/FFBJx60DG9
— z – Calgary Flames (@NHLFlames) April 12, 2019
“I haven’t quite experienced what I experienced tonight throughout my 13 years in this league, [and] I’ve been through a lot,” Smith told the reporters.
This was the fourth match of the season between these two sides. Calgary won all of them, but the previous three were very tight. The first in Denver was decided after overtimes, (2-2) 2-3, the second two in Canada ended 6-5 and 5-3 for the Flames, which indicates that this series might bring a lot of entertainment.
Game 2 will be played this Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome, after which the series goes to Denver.