The Edmonton Oilers have now fallen to a 3-0 series deficit after a loss at home against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Final. It was again a closely contested game in which the Oilers had a good opportunity to win until goaltender Mike Smith let in another weak goal to seal the deal for the Avalanche.
It has happened all too often that the Oilers don’t know what they are going to get from the 40-year-old goalie. He has ups and downs like no other and they even happen as closely together as within the same game.
Game 3 Loss Was On Mike Smith
If you watched the Oilers lose to the Avalanche in Game 3 then you understand how frustrating it is to the team and everyone supporting the Oilers when they continually battle hard and win a couple of playoff rounds only to get beat by themselves. This isn’t taking anything away from the Avalanche because they are a great team and have found a way to play great hockey at both ends of the ice, but they have been gifted goals in the series too.
We’ll start with Game 3 when Connor McDavid and the Oilers struck fast and took the early lead, something they don’t get too often. Throughout the ups and downs of the season, a constant was being able to hold a lead once they got it. Their perfect record when scoring first ended during the regular season but they still play an entirely different game when they’re leading as opposed to down in the game. Up early and dominating the Avalanche in the first period at five-on-five, Smith was a bit out of position and not hugging the post tight enough to let a deflection from his own defenceman in. That can be looked at as a bad bounce and a mistake from both Smith and Darnell Nurse, but pucks always seem to rummage around in Smith’s equipment before finding their way behind him and into the net.
That was the first weak goal, but the bad one came right after Evan Bouchard hit the post and the puck came the other way, just to have an outside shot off the rush from the Avalanche’s off-side squeak through and give the Avalanche the late third-period lead after the Oilers had fought back to tie the game (from “Edmonton Oilers suffer fatal blow in Game 3 loss to Avalanche”, Edmonton Sun, June 4, 2022). That killed the momentum and confidence and seemingly put the series away. There has been no team in NHL history to come back from down 3-0 in the Conference Finals. Though it isn’t impossible, it is highly improbable against the team that has been a Stanley Cup favourite all season long and hasn’t disappointed yet.
The ups and downs I was referring to in Game 3 by Smith were the penalties he and the Oilers killed off to keep them in the game before the two bad goals I mentioned above. They held the Avalanche to no goals on five power plays including a five-minute opportunity. Overall, Smith made 39 saves but couldn’t seem to put that complete solid performance together once again.
Weak Goals Against Smith has Cost Oilers Western Conference Final
The weak goals didn’t just start in the Western Conference Final or Game 3, it has been a theme all season long. Smith battled injuries throughout the season, so I guess you can chalk up some of the bad play to nagging injuries. But once he recovered and Jay Woodcroft took over as head coach, Smith stepped up his game along with the team. His elevated performances weren’t without blunders though.
Smith finished Round 1 with the third-best save percentage of all goaltenders in the playoffs, then the Oilers met the Calgary Flames. He was pulled in the first game after three goals on 10 shots in the first six minutes of play. That wasn’t a one-time thing either, as Smith did the same thing in Game 1 against the Avalanche allowing six goals on 25 shots and being pulled 26 minutes into the game. Both times he stunk it up in goal, the Oilers had six goals of support in each game which should have easily translated to wins. It didn’t affect Round 2 as much as it did in Round 3, as the Oilers went on to win four straight against the Flames while they have dropped to 0-3 vs. the Avalanche. Possibly the worst goal of the season came against Smith in Game 4 vs. the Flames when he let a shot in from the opponent’s end to tie the game. Untimely, very weak, and almost cost the Oilers a massive game.
There is much to criticize about Smith’s performance in Game 1 of the Western Conference Final, but six goals and a .760 save percentage tell a lot of the story. Game 2 against the Avalanche was a very winnable one for the Oilers as well but they lost the game in a two-minute span. The game was close until early in the second period when the Avalanche scored three goals in 2:04 of game time. For one of the goals, you can’t blame Smith at all since it was a two-on-one and the Avalanche scored off a feed across the ice, but the other two were weak and followed the trend of his poor performances. The first was a fluttering shot that wasn’t very hard while Smith had a clear sightline and the second was a one-on-one slapshot that beat him short side. Take your pick at which was worse, but many goaltenders would have had at least one, if not both.
Related: 3 Reasons the Oilers Won the Battle of Alberta
The Oilers will likely go back to Smith for Game 4 since he has been the better option despite his untimely bad play, but the question of whether he should start in big games next season should be brought up.