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posted: 4/10/2012 7:27 PM

Hawks' task: Solving Coyotes' Smith

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  • Mike Smith allowed just 2 goals in a five-game winning streak to close the Coyotes' regular season. He compiled a 38-18-10 record and a 2.21 goals-against average with 8 shutouts.

      Mike Smith allowed just 2 goals in a five-game winning streak to close the Coyotes' regular season. He compiled a 38-18-10 record and a 2.21 goals-against average with 8 shutouts.
    Associated Press

  • Detroit Red Wings right winger Todd Bertuzzi, right, is stymied by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford Saturday in an overtime shootout. The Blackhawks won 3-2 in a shootout.

      Detroit Red Wings right winger Todd Bertuzzi, right, is stymied by Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford Saturday in an overtime shootout. The Blackhawks won 3-2 in a shootout.
    Associated Press

 

Outside of the possible return of Jonathan Toews to the lineup for Thursday's Game 1, the name mentioned most often heading into the Blackhawks-Coyotes quarterfinal series has been Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith.

Coyotes captain Shane Doan called Smith the team's MVP and the best player on the ice game in and game out this season.

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Allowing just 2 goals during a five-game winning streak to close out the season will do that to a guy. So will a 38-18-10 overall record, a 2.21 goals-against average and 8 shutouts.

Even Toews, whose return will be a game-time decision, has Smith on his mind this week.

"We know he's been playing well. He's one of those guys that is definitely on our radar," Toews said. "He's one of those guys he is going to make a big difference for their team.

"We've got to be tough on him, but we know how to do that against good goaltenders. We've got to get an early start on him."

Smith, 30, has heard all the buzz, but is trying his best to ignore it -- although it can't be easy.

"It doesn't really change anything I do," he said. "I have to play the same kind of hockey I've been playing. Hopefully it's good enough.

"There's no 'I' in team and not one guy can win a series or a Stanley Cup himself. It's going to take all of us in here. I'm excited to get a chance and hopefully I can bring my 'A' game."

His counterpart with the Hawks, Corey Crawford, has heard all the Smith buzz.

"It doesn't really matter," Crawford said.

Stealing headlines from Smith isn't high on Crawford's agenda.

"That makes no difference in my game at all," he said. "I'm going to go out there and play the same way. Whatever he's done before, that's fine and that's good for him, but we'll worry about our game.

"I'm not scoring on him, unless I fire a lucky one from 200 feet. I've got to worry about their forwards, not what he's doing on the other side. Let our forwards and our D worry about him."

While Smith has only three playoff appearances on his resume (1-1 record), Crawford suddenly looks like the veteran of the two with 7 on his -- all in last year's opening-round thriller against Vancouver.

It was a performance that Hawks coach Joel Quenneville references often, saying this is the time of year where Crawford seems to kick his game up a notch.

Why is that?

"I don't know," Crawford said with a laugh. "It's a little more fun this time of year. The playoffs ... it's just fun hockey."

With just 1 loss since the beginning of March, Crawford, 27, admits this is about as good as he's felt between the pipes all season.

"Yeah, pretty close," he said. "There were stretches this year where I felt really good. Right now, yeah, the timing's on. I feel good.

"I'm picking the right spots to be aggressive. It just seems like my game has come together."

•mspellman@dailyherald.com

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