A year ago, Ben Smith was helping Boston College win an NCAA championship. Now the 22-year-old rookie is basking in the glory of keeping the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup title defense hopes alive after scoring the winning goal in overtime to beat the Vancouver Canucks in Game 6 on Sunday night.
Smith followed Niklas Hjalmarsson's shot from point that bounced off Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo for a goal at 15:30 of overtime, sending the Blackhawks, who were down 3-0, back to Vancouver for Game 7 on Tuesday night.
Smith, a sixth-round pick in 2008, scored his third goal of the playoffs in his 12th NHL game. He scored two goals in the Blackhawks' 4-3 loss in Game 2.
"Nobody gave up and no one lost any hope," Smith said of the Blackhawks' comeback in the series. "I think it just shows the character of the guys we have, especially the leadership and the core group -- nobody quit. That definitely was big for a guy like me just coming in to see that. It's been great that we've crawled our way back into this, and we'll see what happens in Vancouver."
Canucks coach Alain Vigneault made a surprising move before Game 6, starting Cory Schneider over Vezina Trophy finalist Luongo, who gave up 10 goals on 40 shots in the previous two games. Smith was familiar with Schneider, who played at Boston College when Smith was a freshman, but said the game plan remained the same.
"We just tried to shoot the puck and go to the net for rebounds and second- and third-chance opportunities," Smith said. "He played well, but we were able to score that extra goal in overtime."
When he was recalled from Rockford on April 6 to replace injured winger Troy Brouwer, Smith said he wasn't sure what to expect.
"I was working hard down in Rockford. I got the call and they said just keep playing the way you've been playing, keep playing hard and keep playing smart," said Smith, who had 19 goals and 12 assists in 63 games with Rockford. "It's paid off. We have some great coaches down there who really helped me develop, and I'm just really thankful for that."