The most memorable play by Oilers goalkeeper Mike Smith was one in which he failed miserably. With Edmonton leading 3-2 in the third period of Game 4, defender Flames Rasmus Andersson fired off a third of his ice during the late stages of the penalty kick. This is a game of nothing 100 times out of 100, but somehow, in this case, the puck’s eyes have grown. She sailed across the ice quickly and, regardless of everyone else, thwarted the miserable Smith by shooting his gauntlet into the net. It was pure embarrassment, and it restricted the game.
Anderson’s goal had everything to make of a turning point in the series, which was 2-1 Edmonton and looked certain to take a 3-1 lead after the Oilers scored their first three goals in the game. My immediate reference point was Nick Lidstrom’s center-ice goal in 2002 in Game Three of the first round against the Canucks, which rocked the eventual cup-winning Red Wings from a smooth 0-2 hole. The flames were on a roll. They had luck, bounce and momentum. The oil makers were reeling in front of a crowd in the house that was equal parts angry and terrified. But Calgary did not score again.
One of the most memorable games from Tuesday for Mike Smith was one with only four minutes left and the game still tied at three minutes. Calgary cornerstone Johnny Goudreau took a pass, brought the disc across the central ice, and drove it toward Smith when he saw he had no support. Gaudreau then sprinted toward the disc, likely hoping he could force Smith to cover it and give the Flames a standoff in their attack zone. He would have been forgiven if he did, especially after a bad goal like the one above which can make goalkeepers conservative and conservative. Smith, however, ushered the puck into the ice and without hesitation or fear raised his gauntlet to make a quick pass to Duncan Keith and send the Oilers out on the attack.
That little bit of guts didn’t directly lead to the Oilers’ fourth goal. But there was no whistle between continued play and the match’s climax moment, when Ryan Nugent Hopkins spotted the match winner.
Smith’s small contribution, keeping the disc alive rather than the tortoiseshell, stands out because it represents something I often take for granted from athletes — the ability to keep calm and gather after collapsing on an astonishing scale. Smith has a history of disappointment – he lost 10 straight games from 2019 up to the first game of the first round of the year – but nothing was more important or certain of him than leaving the 3-1 streak in a massive struggle evaporating to stalemate with Game 5 slipping the South. I would have collapsed into an unbearable pile had I done this. I was begging Mikko Koskinen to comfort me. But Smith continued to do his job as he had done for most of qualifying, without apparent tension or nerves, until the Oilers cleaned up the mess.
It seems inevitable in qualifying that every goalkeeper suffers from a moment of mental turmoil. The difference between wins and losses doesn’t necessarily lie in avoiding it, but rather how each goalkeeper deals with adversity. For example, Rangers goalkeeper Igor Shesterkin had a lot of hardships in these playoffs after a year of world supremacy, even struggling on a pair of benches in the first round against the Penguins. He ran into more trouble on Sunday in Match 3 against the Hurricanes, when Nino Niederretter advanced 2-0 with a solid prop that Igor had to manage with ease.
Rangers were 0-2 behind in the series when this goal crossed the goal line. However, in the 90 minutes of the ensuing hockey game, Shesterkin only allowed one goal (with his boys already 3-0 ahead in the third) as he led them back to a draw by doing everything his heavily dependent side asked him.
“You get a slight disappointment for a moment when you say a few mean words,” Chesterkin said of the Game 3 softie. “Then you forget about it.”
The flip side here is Calgary goalkeeper Jacob Markstrom, who was strong during the Flames’ fantastic season but failed to deliver a proper performance in any of Edmonton’s four games. After the third game, where he was sent off by Dan Vladar after allowing four goals in a 12-minute period, Markstrom began trying to recover in the worst possible way. Before anyone could feel comfortable in his seats, Markstrom was limping in an attempt to pass from behind his net, and Nogent Hopkins immediately cashed in with a grueling opener. This was what allowed Edmonton to set the tone and soften their fall when Smith later slipped.
The beauty of the playoffs is that Markstrom will still have at least one more chance of picking himself up. The cruelty of the playoffs is that most of the blame for the elimination falls on him if he doesn’t.