The Chicago Blackhawks got some big plays out of Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa Friday night in St. Louis. However, a lot of credit for Chicago's 3-2 overtime victory over the Blues has to go to the less-heralded Ben Smith.
The Blackhawks took a 3-2 series lead over St. Louis when Toews put his breakaway attempt past Ryan Miller in the eighth minute of extra time. Hossa's second effort opened the scoring for Chicago in the first period.
That said, make no mistake about Smith's contribution to the win. His play in the Scottrade Center simply can not be trivialized in the wake of the 'Hawks star power.
Smith has been seeing increased ice time as this Western Conference first-round series has progressed. Coach Joel Quenneville has used Smith on the second line in place of Michal Handzus. Smith has responded with points in the last two games.
Wednesday in Game 4, Smith was the catalyst on the game-winning goal, passing to Patrick Kane out of the Chicago zone and skating hard to the net. His hustle gave Kane the room he needed to beat Miller and even the series.
Smith was a force in the corners Friday night, bringing the puck toward the front of the net time and again. Smith's dirty work against the Blues directly resulted in his second-period tally.
Gaining possession of the puck behind the Blues net, Smith hit Kane at the right circle. Kane threw it out to Sheldon Brookbank for a shot on goal. Smith, who had gone to the crease area, scooped in the rebound with a backhand and put Chicago up 2-1 late in the middle frame.
Smith, who played a season-high 19:28 in Game 5, also came up large late in the game after the Blues had evened the score. Vladimir Tarasenko found himself with the puck near the right post and an open net in front of him.
The game was on his stick long before Toews entered the Blues' zone with the puck in overtime. Enter Smith, who got his stick on Tarasenko's attempt to keep Chicago's chances alive.
It's a little early to be crowning a playoff hero. The 'Hawks still need to get out of what has been a brutally tough opening round with St. Louis. The road to the 2014 Stanley Cup remains in front of Chicago.
Still, in a series where Brookbank (2) has more playoff points than Patrick Sharp (zero), it is the Blackhawks' depth that will help them advance. Quenneville has called on Smith to step up for Chicago. The 25-year-old forward has definitely answered the bell as the 'Hawks attempt to sew up the series Sunday.
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