NHL: Smith brothers to face off in playoffs
TORONTO — Growing up in Toronto’s Mimico neighborhood, Brendan and Reilly Smith never played organized hockey together. Just everything else.
“We were always playing mini sticks or road hockey or shinny on the ice out on the rink, stuff like that,” Brendan Smith said. “We were always playing with or against each other.”
Inevitably, one-on-one games in the basement would get heated. If it was last goal wins, Reilly said older brother Brendan would often make sure they kept playing until he scored it.
It won’t be that easy when Brendan’s Detroit Red Wings take on Reilly’s Boston Bruins in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. They’ve met in the regular season, but this is a matchup the brothers and their parents hoped to avoid.
“We don’t like when they’re against each other,” Diedre Smith said of her sons on HBO’s “24/7” program in December. “We like it when they’re against other people.”
When the Red Wings were making their wild-card run last month, Reilly told Brendan to keep racking up the points to get the first spot and a matchup with the Pittsburgh Penguins instead of his Bruins.
Reilly didn’t get his wish and the Bruins and Red Wings are meeting in the playoffs for the first time since 1957. Game 1 is tonight in Boston.
The Red Wings won three of four meetings with the Bruins this season, including April 2 in Detroit to snap Boston’s streak of 16 games without a regulation loss. Reilly, a right wing, had an assist in each of those games, while Brendan, a defenseman, went without a point the three times he played against Boston. The brothers also root for each other and talk every day during the season, sometimes to boost each other’s confidence.
“I talk to him about things, things that are going wrong with him, if he’s on a cold streak. We can both help each other,” Brendan said. “We’re always talking. I think it’s good for me and I think it’s good for both of us. ... We’re both in the same profession and we know what it’s like on a day-in, day-out basis, so we can help each other and maybe if things aren’t going well crack a smile on each other. It’s a good relationship.”
Brendan, 25, is Reilly’s biggest supporter. But he didn’t quite agree that Reilly turned out to be the best return from the Bruins’ trade that sent Tyler Seguin to Dallas — because Loui Eriksson is really good — but he expected the 23-year-old forward to thrive.
“I think he’s been the most shock-and-awe factor in that trade that nobody saw,” Brendan said.
All Reilly needed, his brother says, was an opportunity to play with better linemates. Getting that chance, eventually on a line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Reilly broke out with 20 goals and 31 assists.
“He never really got that great of a chance with Dallas on the fourth line (where) it’s hard to produce when you’re a skill player,” Brendan said. “Once he got into a system where he’s starting to play with high-production players, obviously he jumped off the page.”
After just three goals and six assists in 37 games with the Stars last season, Reilly had 30 points in his first 38 games for Boston.
“It’s kind of interesting to watch it and for me to follow it. Reilly came out flying, he was really hot and then it became Marchand and now it’s Bergeron,” Brendan said.
Even though Reilly went cold late in the season, he still finished sixth on the Bruins in scoring.
The brothers credit their parents for their success.
“The drive and all they’ve done for us and how they’ve brought us up from young guys, I think that’s the main reason why we’ve been successful,” he said. “We always wanted to be professional and play in the NHL and we were fortunate to do that. And I think that’s something our parents instilled in us was that drive.”