GLENDALE, Ariz. – Mike Smith is putting up shutouts every time he gets into the net, but all he cares about these days is posting enough wins to get the Phoenix Coyotes into the playoffs.
Smith stopped 54 shots and earned his third straight shutout in the Phoenix Coyotes’ 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night.
Boyd Gordon and Gilbert Brule scored 2:03 apart in the second period to provide the only offence Smith needed. Phoenix is seventh in the Western Conference and leads San Jose by one point with two games remaining.
The Coyotes are also still in the hunt for the Pacific Division title as they are tied for first place with the Los Angeles Kings.
“This is an important time of the year, and everyone needs to play well,” Smith said. “We can win the division, and we’re all aware of that. So, it’s all about winning and not shutouts.”
Smith extended his scoreless streak to 219 minutes, 59 seconds, posted his eighth shutout of the season and his 19th in the NHL. Smith (36-18-10) survived seven Columbus power plays and tied the franchise’s single-season shutout mark set by Nikolai Khabibulin in the 1998-99 season and matched by Ilya Bryzgalov in 2009-10.
Gordon converted Lauri Korpikoski’s pass to score his eighth goal of the season at 5:45 of the second period. Just moments later, Brule flipped in a backhander for his fifth goal to make it 2-0.
The flurry of goals was a stark contrast from the Coyotes’ start. Despite being on the verge of securing a playoff berth, Phoenix looked lethargic early.
“We gave up too many chances the last few games, and probably relying too much on (Smith),” Gordon said. “We have to play better if we want to win. Smith has been great for us all year, and he’s really carried us lately.”
Despite shutting out Anaheim in their previous game, the Coyotes began in similar fashion against Columbus. The Ducks outshot Phoenix 19-7 in the first period on Saturday before the Coyotes pulled out a 4-0 win.
On Tuesday, the Coyotes were outshot 12-3 in the first eight minutes, and Smith again proved worthy of his team’s MVP status by stopping several attempts in close.
The Jackets continued the barrage with 22 shots in the second period, and Smith made several circus saves. He turned away Cam Atkinson and R. J. Umberger within seconds late in the period just outside the crease.
“I thought we could win, but (Smith) was the difference,” Columbus coach Todd Richards said. “We peppered him pretty good, and thought we moved the puck well on the power plays. He made great saves throughout the game.”
This was the third game in a row in which the Coyotes’ defence allowed a significant number of shots.
“We’re going to figure some things out like lineup changes,” coach Dave Tippett said. “When you give up 18 shots on your penalty kill, you’re going to be under siege most of the night. By getting outshot they way we have, that means you don’t have the puck enough, and that’s what’s happening.”
Smith’s best saves came when the Coyotes were short-handed. Smith stopped Umberger twice at the goal post 6 minutes into the game. He was particularly effective in close and helped himself several times by clearing the puck out of danger.
NOTES: Phoenix F Tyler Pyatt returned after missing six games because of a lower back injury. He recorded his third assist in 14 games. . The Blue Jackets were shut out for the fifth time this season. . Brule’s goal was his first since March 14 at Vancouver. … The Coyotes ended their home season with a 22-13-6 record.