BOSTON -- When Reilly Smith scored the winning goal to propel the Boston Bruins to a 5-3 victory over the Montreal Canadiens in Game 2 of their second-round Stanley Cup playoff series, it was another example of how well he fits in with the team.
The 23-year-old forward has meshed perfectly on the line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Smith is reliable at both ends of the ice. He has strong instincts and is willing to do anything to help the Bruins win. He has basically become an extension of Bergeron.
“He plays like a veteran,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “And he’s very calm in those kind of situations. You don’t see him make too many big mistakes because he’s a smart hockey player, and some guys have it. It’s a knack he’s had from the start, and with his experience playing with guys like Bergeron and Marchand, he’s just gotten better.”
When the Bruins acquired Smith as part of the blockbuster trade last summer that sent Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button to the Dallas Stars in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Smith, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser, Boston definitely got the better of the deal. Eriksson has been good for the Bruins, but Smith has been better.
At the start of the season, Julien had Eriksson on the wing with Bergeron and Marchand, but after Eriksson suffered a concussion, Smith was inserted onto the team’s second line and the chemistry was instant.
Smith’s youthful energy and ability meshed well with Bergeron and Marchand. However, like many young players in the league, Smith dealt with the typical goal-scoring drought at the midway point of the season. He went a stretch of 26 games with only one goal, and as frustrated as he was, it didn’t affect his two-way play.
“He’s got the right mentality. He wants to get better. He wants to be a difference out there,” Bergeron said. “I think even in that stretch he was still making the right plays and playing well.
“I love playing with him. He’s always in the right spot making great plays. Right now, he’s played some great hockey. He’s really fighting, battling, making some right plays, going to the front of the net, making some great backchecks, and that’s what you need.”
When Smith scored to give the Bruins a 4-3 lead in the third period on Saturday, he pumped his chest and celebrated accordingly. His teammates surrounded him in celebration and after the game the vintage Bruins jacket was hanging in his locker, which is given to the player of the game by his teammates.
Sporting the jacket, Smith sat at the microphone and answered questions about his heroics in Game 2.
“I think there is a lot more to my game than just scoring goals,” he said. “I have learned a lot with playing with Bergy. This year especially, him being such a tremendous two-way forward, you pick up little things. Probably coming in here a lot of people thought that was the only part of my game and I think playing with Bergy and Marchy, you know, a lot of leadership and the character has helped my defensive game tremendously this year.”
Smith has shown the ability to get dirty. At the start of training camp, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli and Julien told the young forward he needed to play with more grit. Smith accepted the challenge and has not disappointed.
As the regular season ended and he was preparing for his first Stanley Cup playoff experience, Smith seemed a bit overwhelmed by the situation. But in the first round against the Detroit Red Wings, while playing against his older brother Brendan, Smith proved he could handle the pressure and succeed in the postseason.
“It was really good to see,” Chiarelli said. “With Reilly, the inexperience of the playoffs and the ramping up of the play at the end of the year, you can see he kind of got caught up in it a little bit. But he’s a very heavy player and he’s able to adjust his game.”
Chiarelli admitted Smith was worn down by the end of the regular season, but he’s been revived in the playoffs.
“He is a mentally strong kid and he was able to get past the hurdle we all saw in the last little bit in the regular season, so it was good to see,” Chiarelli said.
When Smith’s goal sailed past Montreal goaltender Carey Price at 16:28 of the third period in Game 2, it was a major boost of confidence for the Bruins forward. It was evident in the locker room after the game, and his teammates realize how important his contributions will be this spring.