Boston Bruins forward Reilly Smith and his brother, Detroit Red Wings defenceman Brendan Smith, have butted heads six times in the regular season in the past, but Friday was the first time they faced each other in the playoffs.
The Red Wings 1-0 win at the TD Garden was exactly the type of game and result that Reilly feared heading into the first-round series, even though the Bruins won the Presidents' Trophy and Detroit needed a strong finish just to make the playoffs.
How do we know? Well, the Smith brothers talk on the phone almost daily and one of the conversations they had in late March was about a possible meeting between the Bruins and Red Wings. Reilly didn't like the matchup.
"He told me that he doesn't want to see that because we match up better," Brendan recalled. "He said you guys better get scoring so you can play Pittsburgh."
It didn't work out that way. Instead, this series will put a temporary strain on the Smith family, their parents Diedre and Lester. But for the most part, 23-year-old Reilly and 25-year-old Brendan have been there for each other.
They were raised in Mimico, situated near Lake Ontario, just west of downtown Toronto. Hockey Hall of Famer Brendan Shanahan, who was sworn in earlier this week as the president of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is the patron saint of all hockey players from Mimico.
Maple Leafs centre David Bolland, a two-time Stanley Cup champion with the Chicago Blackhawks, and his Toronto teammate David Clarkson also were raised in Mimico, which went from an independent municipality to part of Etobicoke in 1967.
Brother, brother, brother
Because of the two-year age difference, Brendan and Reilly never played competitive hockey on the same team. But there was plenty of competitive hockey played between the brothers, which includes 27-year-old Rory, a professional lacrosse player with the Buffalo Bandits, in the basement, on the street and at a nearby outdoor rink.
Brendan went to the University of Wisconsin, where he patrolled a blue-line with teammates Jake Gardiner and Ryan McDonagh, and eventually became a full-time NHLer with the Red Wings. Reilly went to Miami University in Ohio and was drafted by the Dallas Stars.
Last July, Reilly was part of a trade that sent him to Boston along with Loui Ericsson, Joe Morrow and Matt Fraser in exchange for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Ryan Button.
Although he struggled at the end of the season, Reilly scored 20 goals and his big brother could not have been prouder.
"I think he's been the most shock-and-awe factor in that trade that nobody saw that happening," Brendan said. "We did as a family, and a lot of people that have seen Reilly in previous years in college and St. Mike's, they knew who Reilly was.
"He never really got that great of a chance with Dallas on the fourth line. It's hard to produce when you're a skill player. Once he got into a system where he's starting to play with high-production players, obviously he jumped off the page."
On their daily phone calls, they don't always discuss hockey. But when they do, the two help each other out with advice. Having an older brother who already has been through a lot, including a trip to the West final a year ago, has been beneficial for Reilly.
"He was probably one of my biggest role models growing up," Reilly said. "He was a really good hockey player so it was something I could easily watch him and pick up a lot of things, a lot of tidbits to make my game better. He's a pretty easy guy to get along with and he's pretty vocal so he's always been there to help out pretty much since I started playing hockey."
"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 added. "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."
Before regular season meetings, there usually is a friendly wager between the two. Now the stakes are higher and this won't be easy on their parents. Both Reilly and Brendan credit their Mom and Dad for their success.
"My parents," Brendan answered, when asked for how two members from the same family made it to the NHL. "They have given us the drive, all three of us, and they've done a lot for us."
This marks the first time a Red Wings player has gone up against his brother in the playoffs, while Smith and Smith is the 10th occasion a Boston player has faced a brother, but the first time since 1975.
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