The Wraparound: Mike Smith has been a goaltending roller coaster for Oilers

Edmonton Oilers
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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2022 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television information.

•  The Lightning rallied to beat the Rangers, 3-2, and get on the board in the Eastern Conference Final

•  Evander Kane has been suspended one game for boarding Nazem Kadri and will miss Game 4 of the Western Conference Final on Monday night. 

•  Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron won the Selke Trophy for an NHL record fifth time as the NHL’s best defensive forward. 

The odds are not in the Edmonton Oilers favor.

They enter Game 4 of the Western Conference Final facing a 3-0 series deficit against one of the league’s best teams. Only four teams have ever been able to overcome that sort of deficit in a best-of-seven series, and the Oilers are going to have to start that comeback attempt on Monday night without forward Evander Kane, one of their most productive players this postseason, as he sits out with a one-game suspension for boarding Nazem Kadri in Game 3 on Saturday night.

Their best chance for making this a series is for Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl to go off over the next four games and carry the Oilers to a miracle.

Given their talent level and production this season and in the playoffs, it’s certainly possible. But it’s also asking for a lot from two players. They are going to need some help, especially against a team — and defense — as good as the Avalanche’s.

Some of that help is going to have to come from their starting goalie, Mike Smith.

Smith has been the ultimate wild card for this Oilers team this season and playoffs because his play has been a wild roller coaster of a ride, not only from series to series and game to game, but sometimes even period to period.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2022 schedule, TV info]

When the season began the Oilers seemed like they were taking a massive leap of faith that a 40-year-old Smith could duplicate his play from a year ago over a full season. For most of the season, that leap of faith looked like a horrible idea as Smith, as well as backup Mikko Koskinen, badly struggled. That was just one of the reasons the Oilers’ season was a disappointment through the first half.

The coaching change from Dave Tippett to Jay Woodcroft certainly helped kickstart the turnaround, but Smith’s late-season improvement also played a massive role.

Over Smith’s last 20 regular season starts (from February 10 until the end of the regular season) he compiled a 14-5-1 record to go with a .926 save percentage, number that put him among the league’s best goalies during that stretch. Combined with the Oilers’ offense and special teams, it is no surprise that there season started to swing in a positive direction at that point.

Prior to that stretch Smith was 2-4-1 with a sub .900 save percentage to begin the year.

His strong play from the end of the regular season carried over into the First Round against Los Angeles where he played great, even recording a pair of shutouts in their seven-game series win.

[Conn Smythe watch: McDavid, Shesterkin lead after two rounds]

Since that series ended, though, the Oilers are starting to get more of the early season Smith.

He has allowed at least three goals in seven of his eight starts since the start of the Second Round, managing only an .895 save percentage in those games. That is going to be tough for any team to win with.

But even more than the overall numbers is just how wild his play seems to fluctuate within individual games. He is regarded as a great puck handler, but that aggressiveness can sometimes get him in trouble and lead to moments that make you hold your breath (like this play against Los Angeles). He has also allowed some goals that have to leave Oilers fans scratching their heads.

There was that goal from Rasmus Andersson from Calgary from the opposite blue line to tie the game.

There was the play in Game 2 against Colorado where he lost his glove.

Then there was the highs and lows of Game 3 where Smith stood on his head for most of it, ended up stopping 39 out of 42 shots for a very strong final line, and then gave up a really tough goal to J.T. Compher late in the third period that just trickled through him. It is a save you really want to see in that situation in a tie game with your season teetering on the brink.

Now they are facing elimination and have no margin for error against one of the league’s best teams. It is going to take a herculean effort to make this season again and get back into a position where they can pull this off.

McDavid, Draisaitl and the forwards will have to do their parts.

But Smith can also be the biggest game-changer if he can get back to the level of play we saw from him at the end of the regular season and the start of the playoffs.

2022 NHL playoff schedule: Western Conference Final

EDMONTON OILERS v. COLORADO AVALANCHE (COL leads 3-0)
Game 1 – Avalanche 8, Oilers 6
Game 2 – Avalanche 4, Oilers 0
Game 3 – Avalanche 4, Oilers 2
Game 4 – June 6: Avalanche at Oilers, 8 p.m. ET (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 5 – June 8: Oilers at Avalanche, TBD (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 6 – June 10: Avalanche at Oilers, TBD (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)
*Game 7 – June 12: Oilers at Avalanche, TBD (TNT, SN, CBC, TVAS)

* If necessary