But after watching him make 43 saves and deftly handle their dump-in attempts in a 3-2 overtime loss to the Coyotes, making life tougher on Smith will be a priority for Game 2 on Saturday.
Smith turned lazy dump-ins by the Blackhawks into breakouts for his teammates. His defense kept the crease fairly clear and offered him a good look of most shots. And even on the two occasions when Smith lost his stick, Chicago was unable to get pucks to the net before he was able to regain his paddle.
"You have to be careful of giving him the puck because he's like an extra defenseman back there making plays," said forward Patrick Kane, who had seven of Chicago's 45 shots but came up empty. "We have to keep it away from him and make the defense play the puck."
That means more purposeful dump-ins - off the glass, hard-arounds that are difficult to handle of softer passes to the corners. Smith had 16 penalty minutes this season, the most of all NHL goalies by a wide margin, and can be coaxed out of position at times.
"Whether it's shots on net, second opportunities, keeping (the puck) out of his glove, putting it on the glass rims … he comes out and plays a lot of those pucks and we have to be more efficient and effective in those areas," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We had some careless or not really a purpose behind some of our dumps. We have to make sure there is something behind it."
Making only his second career playoff start, Smith admitted to being jittery in the first period -- he gave up a soft goal to Chicago captain Jonathan Toews 4:04 into the game and was staying in his net more than normal. But as the game wore on and he settled down, Smith played the puck more and more and won his sixth straight start.
Smith has allowed only five goals in the last 237 shots he's seen, helping the Coyotes snap a five-game postseason losing streak -- all to the Detroit Red Wings -- dating back to Game 6 in 2010.
The Hawks know they can't make it easy for Smith to play the puck in Game 2.
"He's one of the top goalies in the League, and you have to keep the puck away from him," Chicago center Dave Bolland said. "We have to get bodies in front of him so he can't see that puck. It's a lot of little things that can cost you a game, but things that can help you win. I don't think we're that far away."
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He's, believe it or not, actually one of my favorite guys, and I've ended up trading him twice. I appreciate what he's done. He was one year away from being an unrestricted free agent, and I felt with this opportunity, that it was a chance that we were able to get somebody for him in Nick Bonino and Adam Clendening.