Apr 25, 2011
CHICAGO — Ben Smith and his Rockford IceHogs team failed to make the 2011 AHL playoffs.
But Smith and his Chicago Blackhawks squad are now trying to become a part of NHL playoff history.
The 22-year-old rookie who spent nearly the entire regular season with the IceHogs — after leading Boston College to a Frozen Four runner-up finish as a senior — has made the most of his postseason call-up, scoring his third goal of the series Sunday night. Not only was it the biggest of his season, but it was the biggest of the season for the Blackhawks, whose 4-3 OT victory forced Tuesday night’s Game 7 in Vancouver.
Chicago is trying to become the fourth team in NHL history to rally from three games down.
“I’ve been through a lot in just one year. But to score one of those, I never would have thought, not yet,” said Smith, who played six regular-season NHL games and six in the playoffs. “It was one of those ugly goals, too. But that’s what it was going to take to win this game: An ugly one. I just whacked at it, it went in and the place went crazy.”
During a shot from the point by Niklas Hjalmarsson, another former IceHog, Smith slid past the crease as the puck squirted off Vancouver goalie Roberto Luongo. A backhand flick of the wrist later, and Smith was skidding on one knee and pumping his fist along with the United Center crowd.
“He just appeared ... I think Smith just chipped it over me on the rebound,” Luongo said. “I got a piece of it, but I’m not exactly sure what happened after that.
“We have to be able to bounce back from that, though. We have to.”
Luongo was replaced by youngster Cory Schneider to start Sunday’s game after giving up 10 goals in the previous two games, both dominating losses. But Luongo, who is often the brunt of Blackhawk fans chants, entered in the third period after Schneider was injured on Michael Frolík’s successful penalty shot that tied the game at 3.
Despite letting in the game-winner Sunday, Luongo will be the netminder Tuesday night for Vancouver. As for the Blackhawks, former Rockford goalie Corey Crawford has been masterful in net, giving up just 2.27 goals a game in the playoffs.
And now it’s on to an unexpected Game 7.
“We just have to feel like things are going to go our way. We have to feel like it’s meant to be,” Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “One more game, and anything can happen now.”