CHICAGO – Detroit Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg didn’t hold back when asked about teammate Brendan Smith.
“He creates a lot of stuff, sometimes for both teams,” Zetterberg said with a slight grin Saturday after the Wings’ 4-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks in Game 2 of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series at the United Center. “He’s young, he’s still learning. He learns every game. It’s nice to see he had a bounce back game.”
Smith was raked over the coals after the Wings’ 4-1 loss in Game 1, by TV analysts and then on social media.
“That’s a fair judgment,” Smith said when told of Zetterberg’s quote.
Smith had another gaff Saturday that led to the Blackhawks’ only goal, but then he recovered to net the game winner off a nice feed from Zetterberg.
“I just lost the battle with Sharp and he made great play,” Smith said of Chicago’s goal. “I think I just under-estimated his strength and his speed. It’s something that I have to do better.
“Actually, at the end of the game I did better and made sure that I was on the defensive side,” Smith said. “You see how quick it can change like that and I how quick they can get a chance like that. It’s just those little things that I have to be working on.”
Smith decided not to pinch and then had his stick lifted by Sharp which led to a 2-on-1 going the other way and eventually a goal.
“I thought Smith was outstanding,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said.
Smith trailed the play before jumping in to receive a pass from below the goal line from Zetterberg and he one-timed a shot into the open net.
“There wasn’t as much of a back-check and I seemed to have a little more speed than one of the forwards, so I just beat him to the front of the net,” Smith said. “He’s so fantastic with the puck, I think he put it through (Duncan Keith’s) legs and I put it into the open net. It was kind of a gimme for myself. Just being in the right place at the right time, so it’s kind of like a Damien Brunner goal.”
Defense partner Kyle Quincey keeps telling Smith to keep doing what he’s doing and continue to have a short memory.
“He’s a very emotional guy and I try to tell him, good or bad, it’s a job that we have,” Quincey said. “We get paid to play a game and it’s a game of mistakes and whoever makes the fewest wins. When you score everything is good, but every shift is the exact same. Overtime is the exact thing as the first period. Just keep going. We had a few bad bounces against us. I really didn’t hear what grief he took, but that’s the rumor. It’s good to see him respond. It was a tough one on the first goal but it was good to see him bounce back there.
“It’s taken me a long time to kind of let it roll off my back and he’ll learn the hard way,” Quincey added. “I’ve been there done it. It’s fun to watch him get better and better after every game. I just try to tell him that it’s just a game.”
Smith, who didn’t score a goal in the regular season, saw just over 16 minutes of ice time, registered three shots and blocked two shots.
“It’s huge for me confidence and just for our team because it was such a big game,” Smith said. “I had some things to work on from last game and there are still a lot of things that I have to work on. But hockey is a weird game and sometimes the bounces go your way.”
Late in the regular season Smith found himself a healthy scratch for two straight games after his coach wanted him to look after the puck better. Prior to his benching he had gone five consecutive games by registering a minus-1 rating.
“Coach will tell you how it is,” Smith said. “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 all the criticism I got wasn’t as bad as people were saying. If I did a much worse game, he would have told me and would have been honest.”
Smith was called on to play a huge role this season after the Wings lost Nicklas Lidstrom (retirement) and Brad Stuart (trade).