The question was asked only half in jest to Ben Smith, who has bounced around the lineup quite a bit and was bouncing again at Thursday’s practice, this time to the top line.
Have you played with Jonathan Toews in the past?
“I’m not sure,” Smith said to laughs. “There’s been a lot of line juggling so I’m not sure; maybe a few shifts here or there. But no one’s going to turn down a chance to play with Toews.”
No, no one would, including Smith. The much-maneuvered forward found himself on the Chicago Blackhawks’ top line on Thursday, at right wing with Bryan Bickell and Toews. And if Smith’s there for Game 4 against the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, he’ll try to take advantage of this opportunity like he has others this season.
“You never know what happens here but it’ll be fun,” Smith said. “Obviously (Toews) is a player who does everything well. You just try to work hard and keep the puck and do a better job, me personally, than on Tuesday night in keeping the puck and controlling it and making plays. And hopefully find the back of the net a couple of times.”
The Blackhawks have had some line juggling here and there in the postseason, but Thursday’s changes were their most massive in quite some time. Then again, their 4-0 Game 3 loss was also one of their least inspiring games of the playoffs. So changes, there shall be.
In other changes, Marcus Kruger centered the second line with Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane, Michal Hanzdus centered Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa on the third line and Joakim Nordstrom centered fourth-liners Brandon Bollig and Jeremy Morin. Kris Versteeg, who was a healthy scratch once and sat due to illness in another game in the postseason, was not on any of the lines.
For Smith, this is just one more change, one more potential opportunity. He’s slowly worked his way up this season, spending most of his time on the fourth line with Bollig and Kruger before anchoring the second line through the first part of the playoffs. He’s shown he can handle the different responsibilities thus far.
“I think he’s one of those guys, you’re comfortable with him in all situations,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “He’s got some upside offensively and he's got that dependability defensively, so you know, we'll see how it plays out. We could have different guys there, but certainly Ben gives what you're looking for on that line."
Smith may be getting one more prime opportunity. He’s not sure if he’s played with Toews before or not; understandable, considering how often he’s bounced around the lineup. But he could be playing with him on Friday, and Smith intends to take advantage of the chance.
“He’s special. He’s one of the top five players in the league,” Smith said of Toews. “If that’s the chance I’m given, I’ll do whatever I can to help him and the team.”