BOSTON — By his brother’s estimation, Reilly Smith is a wise guy.
According to Brendan Smith, Reilly grew up the same way most little brothers do: following around his older brothers, trying to hang with them but also trying to best them. It’s your average brotherly dynamic.
“He’s a wise guy — yeah, for sure,” Brendan said. “I mean, I think he’s like that just because of my brother [Rory] and I, and he’s always hung out with an older crowd and I think he’s mature beyond his age. He’s a wise guy. So I think that just comes with the nature of being with us.”
“He had to give it back to us somehow.”
Reilly is the youngest of three brothers, all athletes, all of whom spent their childhood trying to one-up each other — whether it was in the hockey rink or in a friendly game of backyard lacrosse.
Starting on Friday, the stakes will be slightly higher.
“This is a goal that both of us dreamed of, being in the Stanley Cup [playoffs],” Reilly said. “And even if we are brothers, I don't think we're going to take it easy on each other at all.”
It’s not every day that you get to talk about the fact that your little brother plays in the NHL — never mind that you’re playing against him in the chase for the Cup.
“It’s really cool to have him do so well so quickly,” Brendan said. “I’ve been able to play a few more years of pro in Grand Rapids in the AHL, so I’ve tasted the pro life before and I got to give him a little bit of tips. But like I said, he’s a very smart kid and he just picks it up quickly.”
There have been six times in the history of this franchise that a Bruin has faced off against his brother in a playoff series. There have been four times during this regular season when Brendan and Reilly have faced one another.
This is the first time, though, that a chance to keep playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup has been on the line.
“Maybe about midway through the year, they came out pretty well and it seemed like [with] injuries, they started losing a couple games and we kind of looked like we might be in the same playoff picture, playing them in one of the first two rounds,” Reilly said. “So it’s just exciting. Can’t wait for it to get started.”
Brendan has been to the dance before. The 25-year-old played in 14 games during Detroit’s postseason run last season, and this year, he has been thrust into a role on the top defensive pairing alongside Niklas Kronwall, due to an injury to blueliner Jonathan Ericsson.
For Reilly, though, this season has been all about new experiences.
At this time last year, Reilly was a Dallas Star who had yet to string together his first full NHL season. The, the summer of 2013 happened: He was traded to Boston, he was given an opportunity to fight for a roster spot during training camp, and he succeeded.
“We had no expectations, actually, for the fact that — he came in and had to earn his spot on the team,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “He wasn’t a shoo-in, and ever since training camp, he earned that spot.”
Reilly started the season on Boston’s third line, but like his brother, a teammate’s injury gave him a shot at claiming a bigger role. Ever since being promoted to the second line alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in December, he’s never looked back.
Reilly’s first NHL season hasn’t been without its challenges. He got off to a hot start, scoring all but two of his 20 goals prior to the Olympic break. The post-Olympic stretch was a challenge, especially for a player who, as Julien has said many a time, has a tendency to be very hard on himself.
“He started off on the third line — his production was good, and then he got moved to the second line, with the concussions to Loui Eriksson,” Julien said. “He’s been there ever since. His production maybe dipped a little bit in the last month [of the regular season], but his effort’s always been there, and right now, we’re seeing signs of him again starting to turn the corner and getting better.”
“So he’s been a real pleasant surprise for us, and he’s made a difference in us being able to have three real solid scoring lines this year versus two and the maybe a question mark on the third one.”
When Reilly started struggling, that’s when it came in handy to have a big brother who had been there and done that.
“That’s just how the game goes sometimes,” Brendan said. “They’re just not going the right way for you, and for him, I would just say, ‘Keep at it, keep doing the same things, and the biggest thing for you is you gotta play probably a little bit better defensively or play a little bit smarter because you aren’t putting the puck in the back of the net.’”
The good thing about the playoffs, though, is it means the slate is wiped clean and it’s a new season for everyone.
This may be Smith’s first dance, but thanks to the strong veteran presence in his dressing room — and the influence of his linemates — he knows exactly what to expect.
“For sure, Patrice helps him a lot in that I think [Reilly] watches him — I mean, he’s a great role model,” Brendan said. “And there’s a lot of guys I get to watch — Kronwall. [Reilly’s] probably had a little bit [of leadership to follow] with Rory and I, but I bet he’s seen a lot more of a better man and a mature man in Patrice. He’s in good company there.”
Reilly added, “It makes a huge difference, you know, for everyday things — every time you step into the locker room, it seems like there’s a veteran presence and there’s leaders kind of guiding you in the right direction. You know, other teams who are just [going into their] first time playoffs in a couple years, they don’t really have that leadership to kind of fall back on and use as a little bit of a benchmark.”
“So it’s great and obviously it seeps off the older players and they do a great job of making the younger guys — people like me, first time in the playoffs — feel welcome and feel like a part of it.”
While Reilly may be the younger brother, it’s Brendan who is currently a part of what is regarded as the younger team. Most of the players in Reilly’s room have been to the playoffs many times before, and a lot of them were a part of the team that won it all in 2011.
Brendan’s room, on the other hand, is filled with a lot of key players who are making their postseason debuts on Friday — just like Reilly.
Reilly isn’t a veteran, but he’s being treated as one, and just like he has all season, he expects to thrive under those lofty expectations.
“I think it’s the pedigree the Boston Bruins have had, especially in the last couple of years — they’ve been to the Stanley Cup Finals so many times,” Reilly said. “It just shows the leadership — if it’s from age or if it’s just from the experience — they have through the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
“But at the same time, the younger guys on Detroit, they’re having great seasons. They’re playing great hockey right now, so we’ll have our hands full for sure.”
And just in case anyone was wondering, Reilly won’t be getting any free passes just because he’s going up against his brother. In fact, playing against someone who knows him so well will likely make his job harder.
Just like all of those times in the backyard as a kid, Brendan promises that he won’t get burned by Little Bro.
“There’s tendencies that I know that he has — that he’ll burn me on and he’ll sneak back door and score on an open-net goal or something like that — where I can’t have happen,” Brendan said. “So there’s those guys that you’re always keen on, and you figure out, but I think myself, being a defenseman and knowing his tendencies, I think he gets a little frustrated with them because I know I’m a little bit better.”
And just like all of those times in the backyard as a kid, Reilly still isn’t phased.
“When it comes down to it,” Reilly said, “he's just going to be another player on a different team.”
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