The Blackhawks' lines went through the blender on Thursday night, and Ben Smith once again found himself promoted back up the ladder.
It wasn't a surprise to see the changes throughout the evening as the banged-up Blackhawks are closing out the regular season without a few of their teammates — notably Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane — as they continue to recuperate from injury.
Smith found himself on the second line just minutes after puck drop as the Blackhawks hosted the Minnesota Wild, and it proved effective as he fired in Chicago's first goal of the night.
"A lot of guys have to step up, so I'm just hoping to be one of those guys that can contribute to wins like tonight, full team efforts," Smith said following the Blackhawks' 3-2 shootout victory. "Just playing hard like we've done for most of the season trying to roll into the playoffs."
After spending a majority of the last couple seasons battling a concussion and other various injuries, Smith has finally gotten a chance to show what he can bring to the table throughout the course of a season.
He's done a fine job of that throughout this year, especially during these last couple weeks when the Blackhawks have needed guys to step up in the absence of others.
"It's nice to have a full year and feel a lot more comfortable around here," Smith said. "Obviously a lot of ups and downs for me to get to this point, but it's nice the way it's worked out."
His teammates appreciate all he's been bringing to their game, too.
"It seems like he's started to get more confidence this season, as that line, him and [Marcus] Kruger and [Brandon] Bollig, have gained confidence all together," Duncan Keith said. "Smith’s done a good job filling holes in the lineup, whether there’s been an injury or we’re just mixing it up. He does a good job on the penalty kill and has been pretty versatile for us this year."
Whether he's finding the back of the net, taking faceoffs — Smith went 5-for-8 from the dot on Thursday — or making quick changes as he bounces around on different lines, Smith's proved to be a strong utility player for the Blackhawks.
On Thursday, he once again switched from wing to center, and coach Joel Quenneville was happy with the smooth transition he saw from Smith.
"He's been all right, and it seems like when we put him back to center he plays well in that position," Quenneville said. "Whether he's with Kruger or Bollig (on the fourth line), that line's always been effective for us…but then (Smith) jumped forward and gave us a real quality middle-of-the-ice presence on that line. He gets to the net well, puts down pucks and then scored that goal, too."
As Smith said after the game, the Blackhawks are left to deal with the cards they've been dealt the remainder of the regular season. That means they'll have to play a simple game if they want to grind out wins throughout these last five matchups.
So far, Smith's done a good job of that for the Blackhawks. Now he hopes to continue that throughout the remainder of the season.
"You never really know what to expect, so I just prepare the way I do and work hard for the opportunities I get," he said. "Just trying to get to the front of the net and play strong on the walls. It's kind of what I try to do best and just make strong plays, that's one of those things that I try to do well. So hopefully it transfers over to playoff time and playoff-type hockey."