The Western Conference Final is shaping up to be yet another goaltending battle. Much like it was in their second-round series with the Nashville Predators, Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was thought to be far outmatched by Pekka Rinne of the Preds, but in a five-game series victory, Smith proved to be the superior goaltender.
In the regular season, Mike Smith played himself into what should have been a Vezina award nomination as the NHL's best goalie, but there are only three nominees. According to voters, there wasn't a spot on the ballot for him, though without any doubt he deserved a nomination. Even though he missed out on a Vezina nod, a Conn Smythe is much more prestigious an award as an individual.
Following tonight's 2-0 series winning victory over the Nashville Predators, among the goaltender's remaining in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, Smith is third in GAA at 1.90, second in save percentage at .948 and leads with two shutouts to his playoff resume. Smith has also faced the most shots in the postseason at 400 even.
Although some might argue that the offense and hard-nosed play of the Coyotes has aided them these playoffs, the Coyotes were built to play with a lead. Of the 11 games the Coyotes have played this postseason, eight have come down to one goal. The only person on the ice to praise for keeping that one-goal lead, or allowing his team to win in overtime, is goaltender Mike Smith.
Sure, Shane Doan is the leader of the Coyotes, and he has played one hell of a playoffs, but if any Coyote is to receive consideration at this point of the postseason for a Conn Smythe Trophy, it is Mike Smith.
Smith embodies the tough road the Coyotes have traveled the past several seasons, and is arguably the hardest worker on this Western Conference Final-bound Phoenix team. If the Coyotes beat the L.A. Kings and move onto the Stanley Cup Final, it will largely be because of Mike Smith.
Smith versus Quick is going to be one insane matchup; expect another tight series in these 2012 NHL playoffs, and in two non-traditional hockey markets expect the NHL and hockey in general to be welcoming a lot of new fans to the game.
Mike Smith is not only good for his team, but also for the game of hockey, and he is an inspiration to all aspiring players. Smith should receive Conn Smythe consideration for his stats, but also his value to his team. Should the Coyotes not have Smith in their net, they would not even be in the playoffs this season, let alone advancing to the third round of the NHL playoffs for the first time in franchise history. Smith for Smythe in 2012.
John Bain is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist
Follow him on Twitter: @JohnBainSports