CHICAGO, March 19 – Once again, Avon native Ben Smith is taking advantage of his opportunities. Last June, Smith practiced patiently as the Chicago Blackhawks moved through the Stanley Cup playoffs. He didn’t see any ice time but he prepared every night to play only to watch the game from the press box.
But when an injury took Marion Hossa out of the lineup for game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Boston Bruins, Smith was ready to go. He played in his only post-season action and got his name on the Stanley Cup as the Blackhawks won in six games.
Now, Smith is centering the second line with All-Star Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell. In the last three games, Smith has two goals and an assist, including a goal in Wednesday night’s 4-0 decision over St. Louis, the team with the best record in the NHL.
Both goals have been nice goals in front of the net. Against the Blues, Smith scored on the power play, getting free and taking a nice pass from Kris Versteeg from behind the net and firing it past goalie Ryan Miller with 12:25 left in the game. It was Smith’s 10th goal of the season.
Against Detroit on Sunday, he had been knocked down in front of the net by a pair of Red Wing defensemen and he was on his knees. But a loose puck scooted across the crease to Smith, who smacked the puck into the net. Smith also had an assist in Chicago’s 4-1 win over Detroit for the first multiple point game of his NHL career.
“I’ve been entrusted with a lot of responsibility the last few months and that builds confidence as well as playing on the second line with Kaner and Bryan Bicknell,” Smith told NBC’s Pierre McGuire after Wednesday’s night victory. “It’s fun for me. It’s a fun opportunity. I just want to do the best I can.”
Smith has been seeing more time on the power play. With Hossa out of the lineup earlier this month, Smith was inserted into the lineup with the instruction to stay in front of the net, a tough space to play with defenders constantly trying to knock the offensive player off their feet and out of position. Even with Hossa returned to the lineup, Smith is still on the power play.
It’s not an unfamiliar location. He had plenty of time on the power play when he played in Rockford for three years with the Blackhawks minor league affiliate in the American Hockey League.
Smith (10 goals, 12 assists for 22 points) has eight shots in the last five games.
On Wednesday night, Chicago (40-15-15) beat St. Louis (47-15-7) for the first time in four games this season on goals from Duncan Keith, Andrew Shaw and Marcus Kruger. Hawks goalie Corey Crawford made 23 saves to earn his second shutout of the season.
With the win, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, the former Hartford Whaler defenseman, became just the third NHL coach to win 700 games. Quenneville, who has led Chicago to two Stanley Cup championships, previously coached in Colorado and St. Louis.
The Hawks play their next three games at home against Carolina (Friday), Nashville (Sunday) and Dallas (Tuesday, March 25) before heading to Boston next Thursday, March 27 for a contest with the Bruins at 7 p.m.