Smith, Flames blank Avs in opener

Mike Smith stopped all 26 shots he faced to earn the shutout, and Matthew Tkachuk scored twice as the host Calgary Flames beat the Colorado Avalanche 4-0 in the first game of their opening-round Western Conference playoff series Thursday night.

Game 2 of the best-of-seven series will be Saturday in Calgary.

The score may make it seem as if the game were a rout, but Smith was undoubtedly the star while posting his fourth career playoff shutout and adding an assist in the process.

There was actually a debate over who should take the net for the series opener, Smith or David Rittich, as Smith struggled through much of the year. However, Smith was the stronger netminder down the stretch, warranting his selection by coach Bill Peters.

That faith was rewarded.

After a feeling-out first period, Smith started to shine in the early going of the second period as his team found its stride. Smith made his first highlight-reel glove save on Gabriel Landeskog on an Avalanche power play early in the second period, and then Derick Brassard’s one-timer got the same treatment

It was more of the same in the third period, too, with Smith flashing the leather on Mikko Rantanen in the opening seconds, making a clutch pad save on Alexander Kerfoot’s rebound attempt during an Avalanche power play and capping it with a glove stop on Nathan MacKinnon with 10 minutes left to the delight of the red-clad Calgary faithful who chanted Smith’s name repeatedly.

His teammates rewarded him with more than enough offense. Andrew Mangiapane broke the deadlock with 5:35 left in the second period. He gained the puck at the half wall, cut across the slot, eluded one check with a toe-drag and then deposited a backhander as he was falling. The result was his first playoff goal.

Tkachuk doubled the lead with 62 seconds remaining in the middle frame when he deflected Mark Giordano’s waist-high point shot into the cage.

Mikael Backlund added another man-advantage marker with three minutes remaining in the third period, and Tkachuk’s empty netter rounded out the scoring.

Avalanche goalie Philipp Grubauer made 28 saves in the loss.