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X-Factor: Smith spurs Blackhawks' second line

by Dan Rosen

CHICAGO -- Ben Smith's speed gave the Chicago Blackhawks' second line a new dimension when he was moved up late in Game 4 to play with Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane.

The Blackhawks will present matchup problems for the Minnesota Wild if Smith is as effective in the Western Conference Second Round series as he was in the first round against the St. Louis Blues, when he had a goal, an assist, 11 shots on goal and a plus-4 rating in six games.

"I don't look at it that way, as if I'm trying to take a role and run with it," Smith said during the series against St. Louis. "For me, I'm just trying to help the team win, and if that's where I'm put [on the second line], I'll work my hardest and do what I have to do to help the team be successful."

Smith replaced the slower Michal Handzus on the second line when coach Joel Quenneville changed his lines in the third period of Game 4. He also swapped Kane and Marian Hossa to create a first line of Jonathan Toews, Bryan Bickell and Hossa, and a second line of Smith, Sharp and Kane.

The physicality of the first line was too much for St. Louis. The speed, skill and quick-strike ability of the second line appeared to put the Blues on their heels.

Bickell scored the game-tying goal with 3:52 remaining in the third period. Kane scored the overtime winner. The Blackhawks never trailed again in the series.

"He's ready to go, whatever role, whether he's getting a lot of ice time or maybe not too much," Toews said of Smith after Game 4. "He's ready to play well and be effective any way he can when he's on the ice, and I think that's just his attitude and his work ethic. He's another guy that we need to be playing well. He's going out there and in any way, shape or form, he's trying to be effective."

Smith started the series as a fourth-line right wing. Quenneville bumped him up at times before Game 4, but Smith never had the type of effectiveness the coach was looking for until then.

In fact, after Game 2, when Quenneville was asked what he thought of Smith when he moved him up, the coach responded by simply saying, "He was OK."

When Quenneville says that, it typically means he wanted to see more. He finally did late in Game 4, and the lines stuck through the end of Game 6.

Smith said he didn't change his game from how he played in a fourth-line role to when he got up to the second line.

"Don't try and change your game too much, other than where you need to be on the ice," he said of his philosophy. "But really, in the offensive zone and the neutral zone, just try and keep the puck deep, get pucks deep behind their defensemen and go in there and get it."

It worked against the Blues. The Blackhawks will be that much faster and more dynamic if Smith continues to play an effective second-line role against the Wild.


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