Coyotes goalie Mike Smith revels in Blackhawks fans’ animosity
BY BEN MEYER-ABBOTT firstname.lastname@example.org April 20, 2012 9:44PM
Updated: May 22, 2012 8:09AM
A chorus of boos rained down on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith every time he touched the puck.
Smith was persona non grata at the United Center in Games 3 and 4 after many thought he had embellished Andrew Shaw’s hit in Game 2 of the Blackhawks’ first-round playoff series. Shaw was hit with a three-game suspension.
And Smith reveled in every minute of it.
“I love it,” Smith said of the boo-birds Thursday after his 30-save performance helped the Coyotes win their second consecutive game at the UC to grab a 3-1 series lead. ‘‘They’re passionate fans, and it’s fun to play in this building. It’s a ride.”
The win was Smith’s sixth in seven games against the Hawks. He’s 4-0 this season at the UC and has relished the verbal vitriol frustrated Hawks fans have directed at him when he handles the puck.
“It looks like it because it looked like he was coming out even more than normal and even holding on to it a little longer,” Coyotes defenseman Keith Yandle said. “He likes being in the spotlight; he deserves it. He’s been playing great.”
That’s an understatement. Smith has been the most dominant player in the series.
“He’s been our best player; I mean it hasn’t even been close,” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said. “You put him anywhere else [in the league], everyone would be raving about him, talking about how unbelievable he is.”
Smith has stopped 154 of 164 shots (.939 save percentage) in the series. And as good as that is, it should be a major concern for the Hawks that he has yet to steal a game for the Coyotes.
Only Brandon Bollig and Bryan Bickell have beaten Smith on clean looks. The Hawks’ eight other goals have been the result of deflections, screens and rebounds. He has stopped what he has seen.
“It’s fun to be in that position. They’re not booing me because I’m a bad player, obviously,” Smith said of Hawks fans. ‘‘They’re great fans, and if I wasn’t playing hockey, I’d be up there with them yelling.”
On Saturday, that yelling will sound a little different in Game 5 as Smith and the Coyotes try to close out their first playoff series victory since moving to Phoenix in front of their home fans at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale, Ariz.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Yandle said, “he won’t be booed next game.”