The matchup within the matchup exists in almost every sport. In football, the quarterback battle within a game has a huge impact on the outcome. A pitchers duel in baseball remains one of the most entertaining things in sports. A goaltending matchup in hockey is both entertaining and important. In the case of the Edmonton Oilers and the Winnipeg Jets, it could determine the series.
The Oilers were actually fine for the most part at five-on-five during their playoff upset at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks last August. They got almost no saves, however, and badly lost the goaltending battle and as a result the series.
This spring, the Oilers enter their series with the Jets with the head-to-head goaltending advantage. In their last five head-to-head matchups, Mike Smith is 5-0-0 against Connor Hellebuyck with a save percentage of .963, while Hellebuyck is 0-5-0 with an .878 save percentage.
Even though Smith has the edge in season series head-to-head, he isn’t worried about the matchup within the matchup entering tomorrow night’s Game 1.
“No, I don’t think you look at it like that,” Smith said when asked Monday if he feels he needs to keep winning the head-to-head matchup with Hellebuyck. “It looks after itself. You just want to do whatever you can. You’re focused on yourself and your group on this side. Just making saves at the right times in games to keep your team in the game and give them a chance to win. It’s no different than the regular season, although the games mean a lot more.”
Smith was not just stellar against the Jets, but was stellar all season long. After a pedestrian 2019-20 season, Smith returned from an early season injury and went 21-6-2 with a save percentage of .923, a 2.31 GAA and three shutouts. He was one of the best goaltenders in the entire North Division.
“It’s the same game,” Smith continued, “Two teams that have played each other a bunch of times this year, both in the playoffs for a reason. It’s about what team is going to play better at this time of the year. It’s exciting. It’s something you look forward to as a player and as a professional. You want to play your best games at the most important times of the year and that’s playoff hockey. I’m super thrilled to be back in there.”