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04/20/2012

Former Dallas Stars goalie has Phoenix Coyotes on brink of second round

142863268_crop_650x440Funny how a franchise that has remained in ownership hell for multiple seasons manages to make the playoffs repeatedly, and now is on the brink of winning a series for the first time since relocating to Phoenix more than a decade ago.

The Phoenix Coyotes are up 3-1 on the Chicago Blackhawks in their first round Western Conference series thanks to former Dallas Stars coach Dave Tippett, and a former goalie of the same organization.

Considering how things played out, it's not as if the Dallas Stars were fleeced when they sent goalie Mike Smith and forwards Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern in February of 2008 to Tampa Bay to acquire center Brad Richards. At the time, Smith was backing up Marty Turco in Dallas but the thought was he could be a legit No. 1 goalie.

None of the players involved did very much to help their new team do much of anything beyond that 2008 spring when Richards was part of a Stars team that reached the West Finals.

It wasn't until this past offseason when the Coyotes signed Smith as a free agent did he begin to win the way the Stars, and Lightning, projected.

Playing behind a set of defensemen and forwards that will grind, chip, bang and bore you to death this season, Smith has become arguably the finest goalie in these playoffs. This season, he went 38-18 with a .930 save percentage and a 2.21 goals against average. 

Because of the style of play favored by Tippett - close to the vest, very conservative, needing a lead - goalies that play for him tend to have favorable numbers. But Smith is clearly in the head of the Blackhawks. Every game in this series has ended in OT. He has repeatedly made big saves, and now has the "cash strapped" Coyotes on the brink of the Western Conference semi-finals.

@MacEngelProf
tengel@star-telegram.com 
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