- Jesse Rogers, ESPN Staff Writer
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CHICAGO -- One edge the Phoenix Coyotes could have over the Chicago Blackhawks in their upcoming quarterfinal playoff series is in goal. The Hawks will face the hottest netminder in the league in Mike Smith, the reigning No. 1 star of the week in the NHL.
“He’s playing really well and has our number lately,” Marian Hossa said on Monday. “We know that. Against a good goalie like that you have to have a guy in front of him. Whatever he can see he can catch. We want to make sure we have traffic.”
Smith went 3-0 last week, but his hot play goes back further than that. He’s given up just two goals in the past five games, three of them were shutouts, all in a row. He stopped 54 shots against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 3. It’s the most saves in a regular-season shutout.
“He’s been playing well,” Jonathan Toews said. “He’s definitely one of those guys on our radar. He’s going to make a big difference for their team. We have to be tough on him. We know how to do that against good goaltenders. We just have to get an early start on him in this series.”
Shaking his confidence early in the series probably isn’t a bad thing, though few have done it lately. His recent shutout streak lasted 234:25, third longest in the league this season.
“We have to make his timing a little more miserable,” Hossa said.
Smith’s 161 consecutive saves during the three-game shutout streak are the most in a row since saves were introduced as a statistic in 1976-77. Overall, he had a 2.21 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage this season. That was good for seventh and third, respectively, among regular netminders in the 82-game campaign.
Smith didn’t play against the Hawks in their lone win over Phoenix, which means he was 3-0 against Chicago this season though the Hawks did get to him for three goals in a near come-from-behind victory on Dec. 5.
His other two wins came “easier” than he would normally earn. He beat the Hawks when they had no legs the first game after their annual November circus trip and then he beat them in February when they had no emotion in Game 8 of their nine-game losing streak -- and one night after a bad loss to San Jose. Having said all that, Thursday starts a new season.
“You can learn from it,” Joel Quenneville said of regular season matchups. “We have to be ready. But it’s all fresh, it’s all new."