The Eulers goalkeeper Mike Smith had the most memorable game on Tuesday that he failed to make the most dramatic. With Edmonton leading 3-2 in the third round of Game 4, Flames defender Rasmus Anderson fired a clearance from his own third ice late in the penalty shootout. It’s nothing like playing 100 times out of 100, but somehow, in this case, Pak has raised a pair of eyes. It travels fast on the ice and, to everyone’s dismay, fails a needy Smith by shooting him in the side of his glove and into the net. It was pure embarrassment, and it tied the game.
Anderson’s goal made it all the way to a turning point in the series, which was 2-1 in Edmonton, and the Eulers seemed sure to go 3-1 after scoring the first three goals of the game. My immediate reference was Nick Lidstrom’s center-ice goal against Canucks in Game 3 of the first round in 2002, which pushed the Cup-winning Red Wings from the 0-2 series pit to the final. The flame was a roll. They had luck and bounce and speed. The oilers were reeling in front of a crowd of people who were equally upset and panicked. But Calgary never scored again.
Mike Smith had one of the most memorable games of Tuesday, which he made with only four minutes left, and the game was still tied at three. Calgary cornerstone Johnny Godrew took a pass, brought the puck over the center ice and aimed it at Smith when he saw that he had no support. Gaudreau then skates toward Pak, presumably in the hope that he will be able to cover Smith and face Flems in their attacking zone. He will be forgiven for doing so, especially a bad goal like the one above which can make the goalies squirrels and conservative. Smith, however, took the puck to the ice and, without hesitation or fear, lifted his gloves to pass quickly to Duncan Keith and send the Oilers back into the attack.
This little adventure did not lead directly to the fourth goal of the Oilers. But there was no whistle between this continuum of play and the climatic moment of the game, when Ryan sniffed the Nujent-Hopkins game-winner.
Smith’s small contribution, keeping Pak alive instead of a tortoise, was different to me because it represented something I often take from athletes – the ability to stay calm and collect after screwing on a great, spectacular scale. Smith has a history of disappointing playoffs — he has lost 10 games in a row in Game 1 of the first round this year since 2019 — but nothing could be more important or stronger than leading the series 3-1 in a huge contest. Back to the South Stagnation with Game 5. If I had done that I would have collapsed into an uncomfortable pile. I begged Miko Koskinen to relieve me. But Smith continues his work, until the Oilers’ offense clears his mess, until he has done most of the playoffs, without any apparent embarrassment or nerves.
In the playoffs it is a seemingly inevitable fact that every goalkeeper will experience a moment of emotional turmoil. The difference between winning and losing is not necessarily avoiding them, but how each goalkeeper responds to adversity. Rangers netminder Igor Shestarkin, for example, has already faced a lot of struggles in these playoffs after a year of world-involvement, even suffering a pair of benches in the first round against the Penguins. He faced even more problems in Game 3 against the Hurricanes on Sunday, when Nino Niderwriter cut a 2-0 lead with a feathered backhander that Eger should have easily handled.
The Rangers trailed 0-2 in the series when this goal crossed the line. In the next 90 minutes of hockey, however, Shesterkin allowed just one more goal (and his boys are already 3-0 up in the third) as he re-tied them by doing what his heavily dependent team demanded of him. .
“You’re a little disappointed for a second and you said a few bad words,” Shesterkin said of his Game 3 Softy. “Then you forget about it.”
The flip side here is Calgary goalkeeper Jacob Markstrom, who was rock solid in an impressive Flemish season but failed to perform well in any of the four Edmonton games. After Game 3, where he jumped for Dan Vladar after allowing four goals in 12 minutes, Markstrom started his redemption bid in the worst possible way. Before anyone could get comfortable in their seat, Markstrom licked an attempted pass from behind his net, and Nugent-Hopkins immediately capitalized on a ruthless opener. This allows Edmonton to set the tone and then limit Smith’s fall.
The beauty of the playoffs is that Markstrom will still have at least one more chance to pick himself. The cruelty of the playoffs is that most of the blame for the elimination falls on him if he doesn’t.