Mike Smith

Red-hot Smith carrying Phoenix’s playoff hopes

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The Phoenix Coyotes have won four of their last five and, as a result, moved to within two points of eighth in the Western Conference.

And a big part of that has been the play of Mike Smith.

The ‘Yotes netminder has been outstanding since returning from injury on Apr. 6, stopping 93 of the last 95 shots he’s faced.

“Smitty’s a real focused guy right now,” Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett told NHL.com. “He knows he has to be a very good player for us to be a good team. He’s willing to take that responsibility. That’s all you can ask for your No. 1 guy.”

In the last week, Smith recorded a shutout win over Colorado and allowed just one goal in a victory over Edmonton.

And even when he lost, he still played out of his mind.

In a 2-0 defeat to Vancouver on Monday, Smith made 40 saves as his Coyotes were badly outplayed (and out-shot, 41-18). He drew major praise from Canucks captain Henrik Sedin.

“We thought they were going to be ready, so we got a lot of pucks to the net,” Sedin explained. “But Mike, he’s a great goalie. He’s big and he’s great playing the puck, so it’s tough getting to him.”

This latest run has bumped Smith’s overall numbers on the year to 13-11-3, with a .910 save percentage and 2.59 GAA. He’s also tied for the league lead in shutouts, with five.

All of this makes one wonder what he’ll get on the open market, assuming he gets there. Smith’s in the final season of a modest two-year, $4 million deal and should get a significant raise.

But will it be in Phoenix?

Tippett is on record saying Smith’s influence over the team is impressive. You’d have to think he wants his No. 1 goalie to stay.

“Players in that dressing room look [at Smith] and he’s as focused as he is,” Tippett explained. “That’s a message that he’s sending that he’s ready to play, that the rest of us better be ready to play.”

Pavelski’s late goal helps Sharks grab 2-0 series lead over Preds

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The San Jose Sharks became the only team in the second round to jump out to a 2-0 lead in their series. The Sharks did it by beating the Predators 3-2 in Game 2 on Sunday night.

San Jose opened the scoring in the second period when Logan Couture buried a rebound by Preds goalie Pekka Rinne. Brent Burns took the initial shot from the point and extended his playoff point streak to four games.

The Predators finally got on the board at the 12:56 mark of the third period when Mattias Ekholm tied the game at one.

Here’s the goal:

Nashville’s good fortune didn’t last very long. Sharks captain Joe Pavelski gave San Jose a 2-1 lead less than five minutes later.

Pavelski also picked up two assists in the game. The 31-year-old has at least one point in six of his seven postseason games in 2016.

Joe Thornton then added an empty-netter in the final minute of play before Ryan Johansen scored with four seconds remaining.

Despite the loss, Preds head coach Peter Laviolette wasn’t too disappointed by the way his team played.

The Predators outshot the Sharks (39-25), they outhit San Jose (46-26), but they just couldn’t outscore them.

Like the old saying goes: “you’re not in trouble until you lose a game on home ice.” The Preds still haven’t done that, which means they’re not done yet.

The series now shifts to Nashville for Game 3, which will be played on Tuesday night.

Video: Marc-Edouard Vlasic saved by his visor after taking Shea Weber shot to the face

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It’s a scary night for players getting hit in the head with pucks.

After Brian Elliott was hit in the head by a Jason Spezza slapshot, it was Marc-Edouard Vlasic‘s turn to narrowly avoid disaster.

In the third period of Sunday’s game against the Predators, Vlasic took a puck to the face. The end result could have been catastrophic had Vlasic not had a visor.

You can see the incident by clicking the video at the top of the page.

It’s nice to see that Vlasic was in a joking mood after the game:

Hockey Twitter breathed a collective sigh of relief after Vlasic got back up:

It sounds like Olli Maatta won’t be ready for Game 3

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You’ve all seen it by now (if you haven’t, click the video at the top of page). Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta was forced to leave Game 2 against the Capitals after taking a late hit from Brooks Orpik. Not only was the hit late, but Orpik also caught Maatta in the head.

After the Penguins’ optional skate on Sunday, Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan wasn’t optimistic about Maatta’s chances of playing in Game 3 on Monday night.

“Olli’s being evaluated as we speak, so I don’t have any real update as far as his status is concerned,” Sullivan said, per the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He’s being evaluated today, we’ll probably have more information in the morning.

“I don’t have a lot of sense of his availability. I’m probably not optimistic, though.”

After the game, Capitals coach Barry Trotz stood up for his defenseman.

“We’ll let the league handle it,” Trotz said, per CSN Mid-Atlantic. “If you know anything about Brooks, he plays hard, he plays clean. He’s not a dirty player.”

And the league certainly did handle it, as they suspended Orpik for three games.

Related:

Penguins coach takes issue with late, high Orpik hit on Maatta

Brooks Orpik suspended three games for hit on Olli Maatta

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Brooks Orpik has been suspended for three games for his hit on Olli Maatta (top). The Caps defenseman will be forced to miss Games 3, 4 and 5 of the best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Orpik delivered a late, high hit to Maatta in Game 2. The Penguins defenseman was wobbly getting off the ice and he was unable to return to the game.

Here’s how the Department of Players Safety saw the play:

“Orpik steps up to pressure Bonino, who quickly moves the puck to Maatta. Orpik peels off Bonino to pressure Maatta, who releases a shot from the top of the circle. The two continue on their path toward the goal line, as the puck is kicked into the slot. A full second after Maatta releases the puck, Orpik delivers a high, forceful hit making significant head contact. This is interference.”

To watch the NHL’s Department of Player Safety’s full explanation, click the video below.

This is the third time Orpik’s been suspended in his NHL career.