BOSTON — Reilly Smith is taking part in the first Stanley Cup playoffs of his career, but you wouldn’t know that by watching him play.
Smith scored the game-winning goal in the Bruins’ 5-3 Game 2 victory over the rival Montreal Canadiens on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden. He now has goals in back-to-back games and is starting to find the scoring form he enjoyed early in the regular season.
“He plays like a veteran,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien after Game 2. “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 (Patrice) Bergeron and (Brad) Marchand, he’s just gotten better.”
At 16:28 of the third period, Smith received a great pass from defenseman Torey Krug, and with Canadiens goaltender Carey Price already down on the ice, he fired a perfect wrist shot to give Boston a 4-3 lead. Smith also helped set a screen in front of Price on Dougie Hamilton’s goal at 10:56 of the third period that ignited the Bruins’ third-period comeback that featured four unanswered goals.
The 23-year-old winger enjoyed a successful (and inconsistent) regular season with 51 points (20 goals, 31 assists) in 82 games. He came into the playoffs with just two goals in his last 30 games, but the Toronto native didn’t let his lack of production impact his confidence going into the postseason.
“I just tried to stick with what got me success this year.” Smith said. “The puck won’t go in the net all the time but you stick to what got you success and what you do well, then sooner or later you are going to get back to your game and the positives are going to start showing.”
His three playoff goals rank second on the team, and even when Smith isn’t scoring, he’s creating scoring chances for linemates Bergeron and Marchand while also playing a responsible defensive game. In addition to his go-ahead goal in Game 2, Smith also tallied three shots and a team-high plus-3 rating in 12:10 of ice time. The B’s averaged 8.5 percent more shots when Smith was on the ice, and his 63.6 corsi-for percentage (puck-possession stat) was better than anyone on his line.
“He’s got the right mentality,” Bergeron said when asked about Smith’s postseason performance. “He wants to get better; he wants to be a difference out there. 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 back checks, and that’s what you need.”
Smith was one of the unknown pieces in the Tyler Seguin blockbuster trade with the Dallas Stars in July. But despite his lack of experience, Smith has made a seamless transition to the Bruins lineup, specifically the team’s second line. His two goals against the Canadiens are as many as Seguin tallied in the 2013 and 2014 playoffs combined.
Smith’s consistent scoring production and poise under pressure is an encouraging sign as the Bruins head to the Bell Centre in Montreal for the next two games. It’s obvious that Julien can trust Smith in late-game situations when the Bruins cannot afford to make any mistakes.
“The Bell Centre is definitely a hard arena to play in, and it will be hard to pick up two wins, but our biggest focus is to try and stick to the same game we have played in the third periods the last two games,” Smith said. “If we do that, we’ll be fine no matter who we’re playing.”
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