Smith not taking run in Stanley Cup Playoffs with Oilers for granted

EDMONTON, AB – Mike Smith was smiling ear to ear at Ball Arena on the eve of the start of the Western Conference Final.

The Edmonton Oilers goalie, who turned 40 in March, will start Game 1 of the best-of-7 series against the Colorado Avalanche here on Tuesday (8 p.m. ET; TNT, CBC, SN, TVAS). It’s Smith’s first trip to the conference final since 2012, when he played for the Arizona Coyotes. They lost that series to the Los Angeles Kings in five games.

To get another chance at reaching the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in his career is obviously motivating.

“You realize as you get older, your chances to make a push and make a run for the Stanley Cup is getting narrower and narrower,” Smith said Monday. “It’s something that we’ve talked about as a group, that your opportunities to get to the conference finals don’t come around every day. So, it’s something that you want to take advantage of when you get here and prepare yourself to try and get to the ultimate spot, and that’s in the (Cup) Final. And it’ll take everyone pulling on the same rope and giving it our best shot to get there.”

Smith is 8-3 with a 2.70 goals-against average, .927 save percentage and two shutouts in 12 starts this postseason. He is 19-20 with a 2.44 GAA, .930 save percentage and six shutouts in 41 career Stanley Cup Playoff games (39 starts).

Smith said it was a “rocky year” leading into the playoffs. He sustained a lower-body injury against the Anaheim Ducks on Oct. 19 and didn’t play again until Dec. 29. But even when he was injured, Oilers general manager Ken Holland said he knew Smith could get them to the postseason.

“When he plays, he’s played at a high level for us. He brings swagger, he brings confidence to our group,” Holland said. “I think he’s the best puck-handling goaltender of his era. He helps our defense big time, and it was just a matter of getting him healthy and getting him into playing regularly, practicing regularly. The second half of the year, he did that.”

Smith was strong down the stretch; he had back-to-back shutouts, 4-0 wins against the Nashville Predators on April 14 and Vegas Golden Knights on April 16, becoming the sixth goalie at age 40 or older to do so, joining Dominik Hasek (twice), Johnny Bower (twice), Martin Brodeur, Dwayne Roloson and George Hainsworth.

Smith signed with the Oilers as a free agent on July 1, 2019. He is in the first of the two-year, $4.4 million contract ($2.2 million average annual value) he signed to remain with them on July 24, 2021. Smith is 299-263-78 with a 2.70 GAA, .912 save percentage and 44 shutouts in 670 NHL games (645 starts) with the Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Coyotes, Calgary Flames and Oilers. He’s getting another chance to get to the Cup Final, and his teammates said they believe he can help get them there.

“We have lots of confidence in ‘Smitty,'” Edmonton captain Connor McDavid said. “He’s 40 years old, but he brings so much energy and so much passion to the game. He battles so hard in there, it makes you want to play hard for him, in front of him, for sure.”