NHL Playoffs 2012: Quick, Smith Will Battle Between the Pipes in Western Final
With the Western Conference finals all set, the goaltending matchup of the season will be on full display as the Los Angeles Kings and the Phoenix Coyotes square off for the right to call themselves "conference champs."
The Pacific Division foes have both played tremendous hockey and have had the most consistent goaltending this postseason.
Let's start with Mike Smith.
The Coyotes' overpowering netminder has taken advantage of his first full season as a starter.
After coming off the bench in place of Dwayne Roloson in last year's playoffs, Smith led the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Eastern Conference finals and was the talk of the postseason while surprising fans with clutch save after clutch save.
After a regular season where he racked up 38 wins and eight shutouts, Smith solidified himself as a bonafide goalie who could change the game with one big save.
The Coyotes finished the regular season in the bottom half of the league in scoring, but their 2.37 goals against per game were fifth-best in the NHL thanks in part to Smith's play between the pipes.
Smith's incredible play in net helped the Coyotes win their first division title in 25 years and has them in the Western Conference finals for the first time in team history.
All this on the day NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced the tentative sale of the team.
His dominating 6'4", 218-pound frame is enough to intimidate most scorers with an overwhelming net presence.
As well it should.
So far Smith has a GAA of 1.77 and two shutouts this postseason. The only goalie with better numbers is Smith's counterpart Jonathan Quick.
As if it hasn't been stated enough already, Quick was the MVP for the Kings during the regular season and has been just as good in the postseason.
His 35 wins in the regular season were fifth-best in the NHL, and during a season where Los Angeles couldn't even buy a goal, Quick kept them in the game every time.
He finished with a GAA of 1.95, good enough for second in the league.
The Milford, Conn. native carried his stellar regular-season play into the playoffs—a time when the Kings finally discovered how to put the puck in the back of the net.
The Kings' newly discovered offense, which finished the regular season next to last in the NHL, has gotten the better of Roberto Luongo, Cory Schneider and Brian Elliott.
Those aren't exactly your average netminders, either.
But let's get back to Quick.
He is three inches shorter than Smith and is absolutely amazing at taking away the bottom of the net from opposing scorers.
Who do you think will represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals?
The Pittsburgh Penguins' Marc-Andre Fleury and the Philadelphia Flyers' Ilya Bryzgalov were supposed to have the premier goalie battle of the playoffs, but neither goalie looked like he knew how to play the position with as many goals as he gave up.
Expect a low-scoring series from these two teams. Both of them were top-five in the league in defense during the regular season, a stat that can be backed up by two brilliant goalies.
Neither team has a "big name" offensive threat, but they both have a bunch of guys who know how to win and have done so with ease.
Either way, someone from the Pacific is coming out of the Western Conference this season.
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