Ben Smith has fluctuated through the Chicago Blackhawks’ lines these past few days. He’s been on the wing, centering the second line, back to the third line.
It’s all about being able to play wherever, whenever. And if Smith gets into the lineup during this series against the Detroit Red Wings, he knows he has to do that.
Smith has been in the top four lines the last few practices but that doesn’t mean he’ll be playing tomorrow night when the Blackhawks host the Wings in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinal series. Coach Joel Quenneville gave the “we’ll see” when asked if Smith could play. But for Smith, he’s just soaking up the atmosphere, getting in the work and being ready.
“I hope it happens but you can never predict,” Smith said about playing. “Those decisions aren’t in my control. When I got the call to practice with the team it was obviously thrilling. I’m improving just with these practice days.”
On Tuesday, Smith was centering Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane on the second line. It’s unlikely he’ll end up there; Michal Handzus, who centered that line in the first round, will play tomorrow night. There’s also the Viktor Stalberg drama; Stalberg’s been out of the top four lines the past three practices, and Quenneville hasn’t given an indication, one way or another, on Stalberg’s status tomorrow night.
For Smith, just being here is a thrill. He had a good season with the IceHogs, which was marred by a hand injury – from a fight, of all things – in January. But Smith worked his way back and had a strong finish. He hopes it turns into more.
“I hoped it would happen,” Smith said about getting back up here. “Obviously you do what you can do, control what you can control and that was getting my game back to the level where it was at.”
If Smith does get in, the playoff pressure shouldn’t bother him. Smith was a surprise standout three postseasons ago when he had several key goals, including the Game 6 overtime winner, against the Vancouver Canucks.
“That experience is something to draw from,” he said. “Being in the big pressure games -- the overtimes in games 6 and 7 -- being in those situation, I’ll be more comfortable if I get that opportunity.
“I’m always ready to play. Obviously I want to. We’re all hockey players. We all want to play,” Smith said. “I haven’t been told what’s going on. Decisions will be made, and we’ll see what happens.”