BOSTON – With just seven NHL playoff games under his belt, young Bruins forward Reilly Smith already has two winning goals. Not to mention the trust of coach Claude Julien.
“He plays like a veteran,” Julien said of the 23-year-old winger from Toronto. “And you know 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.
“Some guys have it. It’s a knack he’s had from the start”
Playing with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand hasn’t hurt either. The line was a combined plus-eight with two goals and three assists Saturday in the Bruins’ 5-3 comeback win over the Canadiens, with Smith rifling the winner past Carey Price with 3:32 remaining.
He celebrated the winning goal—one of four in the Bruins’ third-period comeback—with panache, pounding the glass in front of fans.
“There was a huge momentum swing in that third period as soon as we got that first goal,” said Smith, referring to Dougie Hamilton’s score at 10:06 that cut the lead to 3-2. “It kind of just built up to that moment. so there was a lot of emotions and passions going into that.
“I was obviously really happy that it went into the net, because especially in this series Price has stood on his head and a couple of times we thought we had for sure goals and he’s made big saves.”
Smith helped start the play with some good backchecking, separating Lars Eller from the puck in the Boston end. At the other end, good puck movement had the Habs running ragged.
Zdeno Chara, at the blue-line, found Torey Krug creeping into the left faceoff circle. He spotted Smith in the right face-off circle, with Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher only managing to slow the puck down slightly with a touch of his stick.
When it got to Smith, he swept it past Carey Price as Marchand and Bergeron tied up defenders on either side of the net.
In addition to praise from Julien, the performance earned Smith the Bruins’ player of the game jacket.
It’s a tradition that usually starts late in the season. This year’s prize is a letterman’s jacket that reads “Old Time Hockey” on the chest. It used to belong to Bruins legend Johnny Bucyk, who passed it on to Chara.
“You get a couple of bounces and I guess you’re wearing this jacket,” Smith said modestly.
The jacket is handed out after a Bruins win. The recipient gets to wear it during post-game media sessions, hang it in his stall until the next victory and choose the next winner.
In recent years, the Bruins have used an Army Rangers jacket, chain, and old-school Bruins jacket.
Picked in the third round, 69th overall by the Dallas Stars in the 2009 NHL draft, Smith played three seasons at Miami (Ohio) University. An alumnus of Toronto’s St. Michael’s Buzzers, he finished his NCAA career with 65 goals and 56 assists in 22 games and was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award in 2011-12 as the top Division I college player when he was second in the NCAA ranks with 30 goals.
Smith split last season with the Stars and their Texas AHL affiliate before moving to Boston in the Tyler Seguin deal last July.
Boston got Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Joe Morrow and Smith for Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.
Smith, who collected 20 goals and 31 assists in his first season as a Bruin that saw a red-hot start and slow finish, found himself facing his older brother—25-year-old Brendan Smith, a defenceman with Detroit—in the first round of the playoffs.
It was advantage Reilly as the Bruins won in five games, with the youngest Smith scoring the winning goal in Detroit’s 4-1 victory in Game 2 that tied the series.
The early playoff success for Reilly comes after a flat finish to the season. He scored 18 goals in his first 52 games, with just two coming in the final 30. He went 26 games with just one goal during that stretch.
“He’s got the right mentality,” said Bergeron. “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 backchecks, and that’s what you need.”
Smith says he has always been a streaky scorer.
“The puck won’t go in net all the time, but if you stick to what got you success and what’s got you to this level, then sooner or later you’re going to get back to your game,” he said. “The positives are going to start showing.”
Smith’s oldest brother Rory was also in action Saturday. He helped the Buffalo Bandits defeat the Toronto Rock 15-13 in the National Lacrosse League East semifinal.