Ben Smith took a quick glance after Marcus Kruger had his shootout attempt against Dallas and saw the options dwindling.
“I looked to my left and every person had already shot,” the Chicago Blackhawks forward said. “I knew there was a chance it was coming.”
Smith got that chance and took advantage of it, ending the suspense in the 11th round and giving the Blackhawks a 2-1 victory on Friday night.
Now Smith isn’t likely to be the Blackhawks’ new go-to guy in the shootout. Friday marked his first NHL attempt at it. But it was another example of how Smith has taken advantage of opportunities he’s gotten lately, and has played well throughout this trip. As usual for Smith, it’s team first and him second.
“We’re winning, that’s the most important thing. In any of these games, we’ve done a good job of rolling four lines and getting everyone involved,” he said prior to the Blackhawks’ trip finale vs. Phoenix. “Me, I’m just happy to be playing every day now and I hope that continues.”
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Smith has found his place on the Blackhawks’ fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig, and the trio has been playing well lately. The group has been solid on the defensive and contributing timely points on the other. Smith recorded a goal and two assists on the circus trip. For Smith, it’s just been about building confidence, and he’s done that with recent performances.
“Getting some confidence and playing with it is huge,” Smith said. “I’ve had more opportunities to create offensively.”
Smith’s frustrations the past few seasons are well documented. Coming off that great postseason against Vancouver in the spring of 2011, Smith hoped to make the Blackhawks the following season. He suffered a concussion in a preseason game instead, and was sent to Rockford once he was healthy. He was called up in ensuing seasons, but never played well enough to stay. So to find his place on this team now is that much more meaningful.
“Being here has always been the goal. I wasn’t going to let bumps, bruises or setbacks keep me from doing that,” he said. “It was definitely worth everything I went through. Obviously there’s a reason for all of it. But I’m fortunate to be here now and keep working to make that happen down the road, too.”
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As for that shootout goal, that was just gravy. Smith was surprised it got all the way to him but he made sure he was prepared: he watched his teammates shoot and got some advice from Patrick Sharp, who scored on his attempt in Round 2.
“Sharpie talked to me about it, as he always does,” Smith said. “He helped me come up with a game plan, get some confidence.”
His teammates were impressed.
“Nice,” Jonathan Toews said. “Someone was going to be the hero there. (Corey Crawford) was keeping us in there shot after shot, and it was nice to see Smitty get the win after the game he played.”
Smith isn’t here to take shootout attempts. As he said, “there are guys on this team who make a living doing it.” He’s here to find a consistent spot in this Blackhawks’ roster, and it looks as if he may have found it.
“Knowing I can play at this level and can contribute definitely helps,” said Smith, who will relish that shootout for a bit. “It was special, something I’ll always remember. But hopefully we don’t get down to the 11th round anymore.”