Mike Smith >>>>>> Corey Crawford.
There is no doubt in my mind that the huge gap between the goaltenders is the primary reason the Coyotes beat the Blackhawks 4-0 last night and won the Western Conference quarterfinal series in 6 games. Say what you will about none of the Coyotes' goals last night being soft or being Crawford's fault, but 16 saves on 20 shots just isn't getting it done. And it's not as if the 39 saves Smith made were all gimmies. I wonder how many goals Crawford would've allowed had he been the one facing a 28-8 deficit in shots in the first two periods instead of the one with the far better team on his side. Three? Four? Twelve?
For the series, Smith's numbers are off the charts — 229 saves on 241 shots for an unreal .950 save percentage. Crawford faced 70 fewer shots (seventy!!!) and let in five more goals, giving him a save percentage (.890) even worse than his mediocre regular-season mark (.903). Sometimes it really is that simple.
Oh, believe me, I'm very aware that there are a lot more reasons than the goaltending for the Hawks' second straight first-round exit. They didn't adjust well enough to what the Coyotes did defensively, particularly on the power play and particularly when merely trying to get the puck into the zone on the power play. They didn't elevate enough of their shots.
Normally I'm a proponent of Eddie Olczyk's "get pucks to the net" philosophy, but in the case of Smith — a goalie whose biggest weakness, if he has one right now, may be a tendency to go down too early — I'd have liked to have seen more patience. Then again, you could argue that Smith was, at times, allowing too many rebounds, which is an argument for firing away ... but then, what does it matter how many rebounds there are if the Hawks do such a poor job of playing near the net and putting themselves in position to capitalize on them?
There are certainly plenty of individuals who share culpability for the Hawks' ouster with Crawford. Not only did Patrick Sharp (1 point) and Patrick Kane (0 goals) struggle to score, they struggled to create much of anything — it's not as though Smith was just robbing them left and right. Marian Hossa (0 points) was not a factor offensively in the 2-plus games he did play. You don't expect as much from Marcus Kruger (0 points, -4 rating) as you do these other games, by any means, but he was just completely ineffective all series long.
Viktor Stalberg (0 goals) did very little other than take bad penalties, but I don't know why that's surprising for a guy who plays at an All-Star level against Columbus and is inconsistent, to say the very least, against real competition. Andrew Brunette did even less in the playoffs than he next-to-nothing he did during the regular season. And a number of Hawks defensemen (Sean O'Donnell, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Nick Leddy, Sami Lepisto and Johnny Oduya, to name five) contributed more bad than good.
I'll acknowledge all of these shortcomings, and I'll also say that the Coyotes did a lot of things right throughout the series, especially in their own defensive zone. But I still believe that if you flipped Smith for Crawford, the Hawks win this series, and probably do so easily. There is nothing that can convince me that goaltending wasn't far and away the biggest difference in this series.