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Blackhawks Mon Apr 07 2014
If you would have known two months ago that both Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane were going to be out for the remainder of the regular season down the stretch, odds are you wouldn't have pictured Jeremy Morin and Ben Smith as two of the key components keeping the Hawks afloat for home ice in the first round. But lo and behold, with just three games left in the 2013-'14 season, the Hawks are two points behind the Avalanche and have won three in a row thanks to these two on the ice.
With all the focus on the likes of veterans Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith to help keep the Hawks on pace with the Avs for the first-round divisional playoff matchup while Toews and Kane heal, there's no doubt been a focus on the opposing teams in containing this talented triad. And while each has contributed per usual, it's been the play of Morin and Smith that has turned the heads of fans and caught the attention of head coach Joel Quenneville.
With the Hawks beating the Blues Sunday afternoon at the United Center -- the team's second win in a row against the squad -- they managed to outshoot Ken Hitchcock's squad 35-23, with Morin and Smith each putting two shots on net and scoring one goal each. The effort helped the Hawks to a 4-2 win.
Morin and Smith also contributed at a high level in the Hawks' previous game against the Columbus Blue Jackets Saturday evening with a 4-3 win. Morin had three shots on goal with one that got passed goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, while Smith had another two shots on goal, including a game-winner that slipped passed Bobrovsky with just under four seconds to go.
Then there was the game last Thursday where the Hawks eventually beat the Minnesota Wild in a shootout by a final of 3-2. Smith scored a goal in the second period, which tied the game at one while Morin had an assist, setting up Bryan Bickell in the third period, which gave the Hawks a 2-1 lead at the time.
So needless to say, these two have had a hand in this mini-win streak for the Hawks, but why the sudden burst? It's the opportunity to shine with a little more time on the ice that is making it hard for Quenneville from keeping them as healthy scratches.
Smith has been playing on the roster for most of the season with 72 games played, 13 goals, 12 assists for 25 points. He's mostly played on the third or fourth line all season and has managed to steer clear of the penalty box with only two PIMs all season.
Morin has spent most of his time in Rockford and has contributed to that team's chance at making the AHL's postseason (the team currently is one point behind the Rochester Americans for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference). After 47 games with the Icehogs, Morin had 24 goals, 23 assists, and an 11.5 percent shooting percentage. With the Hawks, Morin has played nine games with three goals and six assists.
It's the simple case of a couple of young guys getting a chance to play a little more on a bigger stage and coming through, even if only contributing a little at a time. In Sunday's game, Smith moved up to second-line center, while Morin played wing on the third line with Peter Regin and Bickell. These lines are connecting and will only get a little better with three games remaining.
In wondering how the Hawks got to this point with Smith and Morin, you'd have to look back as far as the 2008-'09 season. That was the year the Hawks drafted Smith out of Boston College. A few years later, the Hawks acquired Morin and a few other picks from the Atlanta Thrashers (Winnipeg Jets), after trading away Dustin Byfuglien and Ben Eager, to name a few.
And now, here they are, contributing to a Stanley Cup winning team while the team's captain and most dynamic player rest their injuries until the first round of the playoffs. Toews and Kane will resume their role once the playoffs start, but it'll be Morin and Smith who will help them find positioning in the bracket in the interim and, potentially, could play a role in defending the Cup deep in the tournament.