CHICAGO | A job isn’t really worth it unless its occupant can enjoy it.
Consider playing center between Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp fun, with a qualifier for Ben Smith, the Blackhawk who made the biggest advancement this spring in coach Joel Quenneville’s lineup.
“It’s fun, being in the middle of the ice you get to touch the puck a bit more and try to be a bit more in control of the game,” said Smith, who has moved up from winger on the fourth line in Quenneville’s latest rotation brainstorm.
“But at the same time, it’s harder work playing defensively in the ‘D’ zone,” he said. “For us, we’re playing against some top forwards there. For me it’s just trying to play hard, play strong defensively, get puck s out of the zone and try to do what we can do in the offensive zone to create chances.”
Smith assisted on Patrick Kane’s second goal in Game 1 against the Wild on Friday night. He has a goal and two assists in the playoffs so far.
"He wants to do good, he's a hard-working kid," Kane said. "Probably one of the hardest workers on the team. It's nice to see him get rewarded with some ice time and opportunity."
Smith first made an impression during the 2011 playoffs, but he lost most of the next two seasons due to injuries and being blocked by other players on the Hawks roster. He escaped AHL Rockford with a strong training camp, working on the effective fourth line with Marcus Kruger and Brandon Bollig before his promotion.
Giving credit elsewhere: No conversation with Corey Crawford about another good performance in goal can be conducted without him giving copious credit to his defense.
“I felt pretty good (in Game 1),” Crawford said. “But it kind of all comes together when our guys are clearing rebounds and I’m able to find the right line. Our guys take the right lane away and I have to take the other one. It’s all about coming together as a team and everyone doing their job.”
Crawford won’t really bite on a question whether he elevates his game to an even higher level in the playoffs. He was Conn Smyth Award-worthy in 2013, but lost out that honor to Kane.
“It’s always about preparation and staying focused,” he said. “Worrying about the next game and the next shot is the most important thing.”
More odds in Hawks’ favor: Pundits and oddsmakers installed the Hawks as a prohibitive favorite based on talent and the Wild’s unstable goalie situation as the semifinals began.
But history is also is heavily on the Hawks’ side now that the series is under way. The Hawks are 31-8 in capturing playoff series when winning the first game.
By the same measure, the Hawks defied odds when they lost the first two games against the Blues. Their quarterfinals win made their historical record 5-33 after going down 0-2.