Mike Smith is carrying his team to the playoffs, and right now he has no choice, since his Phoenix Coyotes teammates appear to be playing dead all around him.
For the third straight game, the Coyotes leaned on their big goaltender, and he came through with an epic performance, setting an NHL record for the most saves in a shutout win by stopping 54 shots in a 2-0 victory over Columbus.
The Coyotes finally beat the Blue Jackets for the first time in four tries this season, but it was an incredible struggle. Columbus set a franchise record for shots in a game, yet it went home empty-handed. Smith now has a shutout streak of 219 minutes, 59 seconds, and he's had to make 128 saves to get it done -- much to the dismay of Phoenix coach Dave Tippett, who appears ready to bench a few players for their recent play.
"That's three games in a row. We're going to have to figure some things out like lineup changes. That's not good enough," Tippett said. "If we're going to have any chance of winning a division, or any chance of winning our next two games, we have to play better as a group."
The Blue Jackets already had nearly 30 shots on the board before Boyd Gordon and Gilbert Brule scored 2:03 apart in the second period to give Smith something to work with. Smith made 39 saves in the first two periods, and his pad-stacking, glove-snatching snare of a James Wisniewski shot destined for the back of the net will be highlight material for days.
"I was kind of off-balance and more out of desperation than anything else I had to throw up a jammer. It was a lucky one," Smith said, smiling. "Burkie (goaltending coach Sean Burke) kind of frowns on those, but whatever it takes to stop the puck, I'll do it."
The Coyotes finished 22-13-6 on home ice, and they might need at least one more point either Friday at St. Louis or Saturday at Minnesota to assure themselves of a playoff berth. Dallas is four points back with 89, but it holds the tiebreaker over Phoenix if the Stars can snap a three-game losing streak and win their last two games.