CHICAGO -- It was a rough night for the Detroit defensemen in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinals against the top-seeded Chicago Blackhawks, but the amount of fault placed on them for the defeat might have been overstated.
Rookie Brendan Smith was one of the players who received a share of the criticism, but Red Wings coach Mike Babcock made it clear before Game 2 of the series Saturday that the forwards were not helping the defensemen nearly enough, which led to a lot of the turnovers and missed outlet passes that hemmed in the Red Wings.
Those same defensemen, with the proper support from the forwards, looked a lot better in Game 2, and in particular Smith, who was one of the heroes when the seventh-seeded Red Wings defeated the Blackhawks 4-1 to even the best-of-7 series.
"It made me feel very good," Smith said of Babcock's confidence in him and willingness to stand up for the defensemen. "[Babcock] will tell you how it is. If you don't play very well, he'll tell you. I think we both kind of went over things and we didn't think it was ... all the criticism I got wasn't as bad as people were saying. If I did play a much worse game, he would have told me and would have been honest."
Smith had a strong effort in Game 2 and ended up with the game-winning goal as the highlight. Late in the second period, Smith had the puck along the left wall and sent it across the ice for Daniel Cleary. Smith actually fell down as he made the pass.
Cleary chipped the puck into the offensive zone down the left side of the ice. Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg won a race for the puck and collected it deep in the Chicago zone. When he turned to look for a trailing teammate, there was Smith was racing back into the play on the right side.
Zetterberg put a pass through Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith's legs, and all Smith had to do was not miss.
"I don't think it was that hard of a backcheck and I seemed to have a little bit more speed than one of the [Blackhawks] forwards," Smith said. "I just beat him to the front of the net. [Zetterberg] is so fantastic with the puck. I think he put it through [Keith's] legs, feathered it through his legs, and it was a wide-open net. It is kind of a gimme for myself and just being in the right place at the right time. It was kind of a Damien Brunner goal."
Detroit defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said, "Absolutely [it was a big goal]. Hank [Zetterberg] made a terrific play, but for Smith to be really aware and join the rush and came with a lot of speed and made himself available to get the goal."
Smith did make a mistake on the opening goal, which allowed Chicago to claim a 1-0 lead in the first period. The puck was in the Chicago end and was sent out toward center ice. Smith confronted Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp but was on the wrong side, and after Sharp was able to deflect the puck into the Detroit zone, Smith fell down.
Sharp went and collected the puck and Patrick Kane scored on the ensuing 3-on-2 when Smith couldn't get back in time.
"I just lost the battle with Sharp. He made a great play," Smith said. "That's why he's done so well in the playoffs. It is something that you get more of a feel for these players as the series goes on. I think I just maybe underestimated his strength and his speed. It is something I've got to do better the rest of the series, and actually I did a better job with that at the end of the game, making sure I was on the defensive side. You see how quick it can change like that and how quickly they can get a chance like that. It is just those little things that I've got to work on."
After the game, Zetterberg joked that Smith can create offense for both teams sometimes, but he has proven to be an asset for Detroit with his skating ability and willingness to join the rush.
When Babcock was asked about Smith, and his penchant for yielding chances while also creating them, the coach fully supported his young defenseman, saying Smith was "outstanding" in Game 2.
Even if he was at fault on the first Chicago goal, it did not deter him. Not only did he make amends by scoring a goal, but he had a strong overall game after that.
"Oh yeah, you get that snowball effect if you keep trying to do [too much] and you find yourself in worse positions," Smith said. "We've got so many vets that are behind me and just saying, 'Shake it off. Anything can happen.' Bad bounces -- sometimes the ice isn't the best in certain positions -- so you just keep playing your game and you never know what will happen. Fortunately I was able to get that one.
"I think it is a maturity thing that I've continued to work. If you start getting frustrated and get down on yourself, that's where that snowball effect happens. I think just trying to keep a level head and put things behind you is the best thing. You saw Nick Lidstrom do that. He rarely made a bad play, but when he did, it is like nothing fazes him and he never did it. I'm still working. This is a work in progress, obviously, and something that I want to keep getting better at."