Playoffs are Ben Smith's time of year

CHICAGO -- Ben Smith has a track record for being clutch in the playoffs.

He did it first while at Boston College. He helped the Eagles to three Frozen Four appearances and two national championships in four years. He was the most valuable player of the Frozen Four his senior season.

He then proved his playoff worth for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2011. Despite appearing in just six regular season games, Smith got his chance to play in a first-round series with the Vancouver Canucks and shined. He scored two goals in Game 2 and scored the game-winner in overtime in Game 6.

Smith was even called upon last season to fill in for Marian Hossa in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals despite having played in just one regular season game.

Smith can't explain why he's played well in the playoffs throughout his career, but he links it to the big-game pressure and the arrival of spring.

"I don't know," Smith said after a recent practice. "I just think it's enjoying the pressure, enjoying playoff hockey. When the weather gets a bit warmer, you always feel that kind of energy, that playoff energy. Just trying to simplify, get to the net and that kind of grind-it-out style might benefit me going to the net hard and making simple plays.

"You never know what's going to happen, but it's been nice to have had that experience in the past having some success in the playoffs and being able to draw from it."

Unlike Smith's last NHL playoff appearance, he will be entering this season's playoffs having played a full season with the Blackhawks. He made the team out of training in September, had to fight early in the season for ice time and eventually became an everyday player.

Smith played a majority of the season in a defensive role on the fourth line with Brandon Bollig and Marcus Kruger, but he's also been given a top-6 forward role at times. He finished the regular season with 14 goals, 12 assists and a plus-2 rating in 75 games.

"For me, it's been a nice year having been up here all season and to be able to contribute as I have," Smith said. "There's a lot riding on what's next here. We're taking it day by day and just trying to help this team win however I can. It's certainly an exciting time of the year."

Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville's confidence has grown in Smith throughout the season. Smith's minutes have increased as the season has progressed, and he was even placed as the second-line center alongside Patrick Kane during one stretch.

"We're comfortable with Benny's game," Quenneville said. "He's one of those that approaches every day like he wants to be good, improve his game. He's never satisfied. He's always looking for more based on how he's competing, how he prepares.

"He's a great young kid coming into the league that has a lot of enthusiasm and does everything he can on a game-to-game, shift-to-shift basis where he earns more, deserves more. He had one of those years he just got better. I'm sure he's excited about where his game is and where he's at right now."

Smith has been getting into his playoff form in recent weeks. He scored goals in four of the Blackhawks' past six games.

"That felt good," Smith said. "Obviously we dropped a couple games there at the end which weren't our best games. Creating some momentum, it was nice to get a few and have some confidence around the net here going into the playoffs."

As for his reputation as big-game player, Smith shrugs it off.

"I don't really think of it that way," Smith said. "I just go out and try to work hard and play my game and hope for good results."