2012 NHL Playoffs, Blackhawks Vs. Coyotes: Will Goalie Mike Smith Give Phoenix The Decisive Edge?

The Chicago Blackhawks are more than happy to have avoided the Nashville Predators in the first round of the NHL's Western Conference playoff bracket, but that doesn't mean their matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes will be easy. Phoenix goaltender Mike Smith, a 6-foot-4, 215-pound athlete with excellent agility and superb puck-handling skills stands directly in Chicago's path. Smith allowed just 2.21 goals per contest, good for a 93.0 save percentage, in the 2011-12 campaign, but he has been especially hot lately.

SB Nation's NHL editor Travis Hughes recently put together his 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs preview, and one of his six biggest questions about the post-season involved none other than Mike Smith:

Can Mike Smith continue to carry Phoenix?

The goaltender is perhaps the single reason the Phoenix Coyotes are Pacific Division champions, and given the jokes that were made at the team's expense when they signed Smith as a free agent last summer, the season he's put together is even more amazing than at first thought.

Smith's career-high save percentage heading into this season was .916, which he put up in 41 games as a member of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2008-09. With the Coyotes this season, Smith put up a ridiculous .930 save percentage, right up there with the elites in the NHL. In fact, Smith and Vezina Trophy front-runner Henrik Lundqvist each put up the same number, tops among starting goaltenders in the league this season.

If you'd like even more coverage on Chicago's matchup with Mr. Smith, be sure to check out this excellent breakdown by Sam Fels of SB Nation's Blackhawks blog, Second City Hockey.

To get you in the mood for playoff hockey, here is a complete look at the post-season landscape:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

WESTERN CONFERENCE

For more on the Coyotes, check in with Five For Howling and SB Nation Arizona. For more on the Blackhawks, check in with Second City Hockey and stick with SB Nation Chicago.

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