Mike Smith

Mike Smith stops regulation-record 54 shots for third straight shutout


Ilya Bryzgalov might have been the first star of March but Mike Smith has easily been one of the best steals of the 2011 free agent summer. Considering his struggles in Tampa Bay, it’s understandable that many downplay his accomplishments as the mere product of Dave Tippett’s system, but he’s putting up the numbers of a star whether he is one or not.

That’s been especially true lately, when Phoenix needs him to play like a Vezina winner – and he’s delivered to a stunning degree. Tonight may rank as his masterpiece, however, as he extended his shutout streak to three consecutive games by stopping 54 Columbus Blue Jackets shots in a 2-0 win.

Update: his masterpiece will go down in NHL history, by the way. Bruce McCurdy confirms that 54 saves sets the new mark for the most in a regulation game. Yeah, that’s impressive.

Sure the Coyotes were “supposed” to win, yet the Blue Jackets have delighted in playing the spoiler lately with three straight wins against playoff-level teams. Obviously Columbus didn’t just roll over against Phoenix – Jack Johnson had eight shots alone – but Smith dazzled in giving the desert dogs a great chance to win at least the seventh seed (if not the Pacific Division).

With that in mind, here’s how that fuzzy situation looks now:

3. Los Angeles – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with two games left

7. Phoenix – 93 points, 34 regulation/OT wins with two games left
8. San Jose – 92 points, 33 regulation/OT wins with two games left

9. Dallas – 89 points, 35 regulation/OT wins with two games left
10. Colorado – 88 points, 32 regulation/OT wins with two games left

The Coyotes and Kings have identical records – even standard wins with 40 each – so Los Angeles likely holds the season series advantage (or perhaps a more obscure tiebreaker). The good news is that the Sharks and Kings close out their seasons with a home-and-home, so one way or another they’ll probably get some help.

Colorado is already irrelevant to Phoenix since it tops out at 92 points while the Stars would be out of the picture if the Coyotes gain a single point. So, yes, the playoffs aren’t a guarantee in Glendale – but they’re awfully close to that.

Perhaps the best news is that the Coyotes won’t have to worry about the Detroit Red Wings in the first round this time – although Smith at least wouldn’t carry the same baggage as his universe-pondering predecessor in the first place.

Canucks spoil Ducks’ home opener via shootout

Adam Cracknell, Ryan Miller

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Ryan Miller and the Vancouver Canucks have already found a groove just three games into the regular season. The Anaheim Ducks are still looking for a way to get their offense going.

Radim Vrbata and Alex Burrows scored in the shootout, and the Canucks spoiled Anaheim’s home opener with a 2-1 victory Monday night.

Miller made 28 saves and Adam Cracknell scored in regulation for Vancouver, which beat the Ducks for just the third time in their last 12 meetings.

Vancouver improved to 2-0 on the road in the young season, with Miller yielding just one goal in each game. That’s encouraging to the veteran, who played in only four games after Feb. 22 last season while dealing with a knee injury.

“I’m just trying to go out there and battle and compete,” said Miller, who stopped a third-period redirection by Carl Hagelin with his mask. “That was my mindset coming off an injury. That’s what it really comes down to, getting back the focus early on. I didn’t play hockey for a while. The technical stuff I worked on this summer and I pay attention to in practice.”

Even with twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin combining for just one shot, the Canucks won the new season’s first meeting between the Pacific Division’s top two teams last year. Anaheim won its third straight division title, while Vancouver finished a surprising second before losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

Sami Vatanen scored and Frederik Andersen stopped 24 shots for the Ducks, who have scored just one goal while going winless in the first two games of a season that begins with Stanley Cup aspirations.

Anaheim was shut out in San Jose on Saturday in its opener before returning to Honda Center for its first real game on home ice since Game 7 of the Western Conference finals, when Chicago advanced to win the Stanley Cup.

Kevin Bieksa played nearly 24 1/2 minutes in his second game with the Ducks. Anaheim acquired the veteran defenseman from Vancouver last summer after he played 10 years with the Canucks, who drafted him in 2001. Bieksa was reunited with Ryan Kesler, the longtime Vancouver forward who moved to Anaheim before last season.

“We fought back a lot better than we did in San Jose,” Bieksa said. “So we need to keep building on this in the rest of this homestand here. If we do that, we’re going to be all right.”

After the Ducks failed to score on a power play during their first official taste of 3-on-3 overtime hockey, Vrbata and Burrows got stuttering, halting shots past Andersen, who stopped Burrows’ shot before watching it trickle under him.

“I’ve done that move a few times against a few goalies, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it against Freddie,” Burrows said. “So I tried it, and I’m lucky it went in tonight. It hit his stick and trickled in.”

Jakob Silfverberg scored in the shootout for the Ducks, who lost their home opener for just the second time in six seasons. Anaheim’s talented offensive players aren’t clicking so far, but nobody is panicking yet.

“I think we’re doing things the right way now,” Vatanen said. “We battled hard. We got some good chances. The season is long, so we’re going the right way.”

Both teams opened at a furious pace, with end-to-end chances throughout. After a scoreless first period, Vatanen got the Ducks’ first goal of the season when his long, low shot went through Mike Santorelli‘s screen.

Cracknell evened it later in the period with a sharp-angled shot that somehow deflected off Andersen’s shoulder or stick and landed behind the goalie. The journeyman got his first regular-season NHL goal since April 4, 2013, and just the seventh of his 85-game NHL career.

“Pretty fortunate goal on their part,” Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau said.

NOTES: A small group of vocal protesters gathered outside Honda Center to call for the suspension of Ducks D Clayton Stoner, who faces charges in Canada related to a 2013 grizzly bear hunt. … Cracknell hadn’t scored a goal in his last 49 regular-season games, although he got a postseason goal in 2014 for St. Louis.

Coming Tuesday: Dan Boyle, $4.5M healthy scratch

Brad Marchand, Dan Boyle

Few things say “Oops, bad signing” quite like putting a really expensive player in street clothes (without an injury being involved).

The Philadelphia Flyers set quite the high bar in that regard, but the New York Rangers can’t laugh too much. Not with Dan Boyle expected to be a healthy scratch against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday.

The word from the Bergen Record is that Dylan McIlrath will draw into the Rangers lineup in Boyle’s space, although Kevin Klein will take over Boyle’s role on the power play.

Let’s face the facts. At 39, Boyle may still boast some zip on offense, but maybe not enough to justify an everyday role.

It’s not the first time the Rangers have decided to make the difficult, awkward season to phase a big name out as he approaches age 40.

Even if it’s just a momentary situation, one cannot help but wonder if Boyle’s career is screeching to halt much like Martin St. Louis’ did in 2014-15 (though the latter’s decline was more sudden).

On the bright side, it sounds like Boyle has a side job lined up with Faith No More.