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Brendan Smith’s rebound performance key to Red Wings’ victory

Updated: June 20, 2013 4:46PM

Defenseman Brendan Smith was the whipping boy for the Detroit Red Wings’ Game 1 loss — an all-too-clear example that the difference between the Blackhawks and Red Wings is on the back line, where Nick Lidstrom no longer dominates and Smith is a long way from being the next great Wings defender.

Smith was vulnerable again in the first period of Game 2 at the United Center. After the Wings killed off his hooking penalty, he tripped near the blue line to spring Patrick Sharp for a rush that led to Patrick Kane’s goal to give the Hawks an early lead.

But instead of wilting, Smith recovered. He converted a perfect pass from Henrik Zetterberg for the tie-breaking goal in the second period and helped keep the Hawks scoreless the remainder of the game as the Red Wings responded with a 4-1 victory.

The Red Wings had a lot of heroes Saturday, but the 24-year-old Smith’s performance exemplified the overall effort and response from a tough Game 1 loss.

“He creates a lot of stuff — sometimes for both teams,” Zetterberg said. “But it’s nice to see he could put it away when he gets the chance. He’s yong. He’s still learning. It’s nice to see he had a bounce-back game from Game 1.”

Smith is no Lidstrom — nobody is. But he learned from the best.

“If you get frustrated, that’s where the snowball effect is going to happen,” Smith said. “Just keep a level head and put things behind you. You saw Nick Lidstrom do that. He rarely made a mistake, but when he did it was like he never did it. I’m still learning. This is a work-in-progress, obviously. It’s something I want to keep getting better at.”

Smith was the only Wings player who made a difference Saturday. They all did, especially on the back line, where the Red Wings’ defensemen outplayed the Hawks on the scoresheet and the ice. Jakub Kindl’s shot from the point was deflected by Damien Brunner past Corey Crawford for the tying goal. Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson also had assists. The Wings’ defensemen outshot their Blackhawk counterparts 9-2.

The Wings defenders are still what they are. But as Smith noted, they received the help they need against a team like the Blackhawks.

“Ultimately, what helped us is our team played better,” Smith said. “And that’s what happens. Our forwards get back, we make better plays. We don’t play as much in our own end.

“If we don’t make those quick plays, we’ll end up playing in our end and you know how talented their team is and how fast they are, we’ll be peppered in our own end the whole time. It was a team effort. we made a lot of better plays. If you give the puck away their transition game is huge. they’re so fast. I think just little things like that helped us that much more. I wouldn’t say it was just the D-core. Our forwards helped out a lot more and that was the reason we played better.”

As expected, the Red Wings were more aggressive against the Hawks all over the ice.

“We felt like we can take it to them,” Ericsson said. “The first game we were with them for 20 but we stopped playing totally for the second and third. Today we played well for 60 minutes and it paid off.”

But they know they can’t do that by themselves. It was the physical play of their forwards that did the most damage to Jonathan Toews and the Hawks.

“It easier to be physical if we’re really tight on them and we can’t be tight if we don’t have the third forward back,” Ericsson said. “It was easier for the d-men to play tonight because we were a lot tighter with our third [forwards] and coming back from the offensive zone. That helps the d-men be tighter on their forwards.”

Nowhere was that more evident than in shutting down Toews, who was manhandled by Zetterberg. The Wings know they have a lot better chance to keep Toews in check if they play him physically.

“Absolutely,” Ericsson said. “He’s one of their best players for sure. They’ve got a lot of players we need to stay tight on. You can’t give them much space out there.”

Smith said it was more than just a matter of shutting down Toews.

“It’s their whole offense. You’ve got to slow them down and play them hard,” he said. “It’s something you want to do to every team. But you have to be a little more conscious with some of these players. They’re all-star players. They’re top-notch players on any of their [national] teams. They’re phenomenal. You have to make sure you play them as hard as you can and make sure that you do bump ‘em and be on the defensive side of these guys.”

The trick for the Red Wings was improving their physical play without losing their offensive touch. It worked to perfection in Game 2.

“If we can be gritty and determined on the puck and limit the space, then series on,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. ‘‘If we can’t skate with them, the rest of that stuff won’t matter. If you work real hard and play with good structure and believe in one another and do what we do, then series on.”

The Red Wings left Chicago upbeat and looking forward to returning to Joe Louis Arena with home-ice advantage. Game 3 is Monday night.

“I think it’s great. We’re in the series now,” Brunner said. ‘‘Our fans are probably excited, waiting for us to come home. Expecting good atmosphere at the Joe. Hopefully we get some wins for them.”

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