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Smith stands out for Panthers in series

Forward shows scoring touch with three goals against Islanders

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Ask the Florida Panthers what they knew about forward Reilly Smith prior to his trade from the Boston Bruins last summer and you'll get the same answer from almost every player: Not much.

After the first two games of the Eastern Conference First Round against the New York Islanders, everyone knows who Reilly Smith is now.

With a goal and an assist in a 3-1 win in Game 2 at BB&T Center on Friday, Smith has five points in this best-of-7 series that is tied 1-1. Game 3 will take place at Barclays Center on Sunday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports 2, MSG+, FS-F).

Smith quickly picked up where he left off in Game 1, when he had two goals an assist in a 5-4 loss. He gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead 4:32 into Game 2, driving to the net like he usually does and putting Nick Bjugstad's rebound past Islanders goaltender Thomas Greiss.

"It seems like the puck's following me around right now," Smith said.

The reality is, Smith is being rewarded for continuing to do the things that lead to goals, particularly at this time of year. Friday was his seventh Stanley Cup Playoff goal (he had four goals in 12 games for the Bruins in 2014).

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm1: Smith scores his second of the night

It makes one wonder how Smith, who celebrated his 25th birthday April 1, has already been traded twice. He was a key piece in the deal that sent center Tyler Seguin from the Bruins to the Dallas Stars in 2013, then was traded to the Panthers (along with the contract of Marc Savard) on July 1 for forward Jimmy Hayes.

Florida coach Gerard Gallant admitted Friday morning he didn't know a tremendous amount about Smith prior to the trade, but he learned a great deal as soon as training camp opened in September.

"He's a good hockey player," Gallant said after Florida's first win of this postseason. "We got him this year in a trade, and ever since we got him, the first day we knew he could play. He just got better every game. He's got a great shot, he goes to the net and that's where he scores goals.

"Tonight was a perfect example of that, going to the net, rebound goal and banging one home."

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm2: Smith bangs in rebound past Greiss

The hope for him and the Panthers is that his offense doesn't dry out.

"You don't really want to ever [sell] yourself short," Smith said. "There's still a lot left and hopefully I can still have my game.

"It's awesome. I think I've got to figure out some different celebrations. But it's awesome to be able to help the team. Obviously I think that's the biggest thing. It feels great to do that."

With Panthers forward Vincent Trocheck recovering from a foot injury, the line of Smith, Nick Bjugstad and Jussi Jokinen has stepped up in a big way. Bjugstad scored his first NHL playoff goal in Game 2; Jokinen, who also has a history of postseason performance (31 points in 50 games), had a goal and two assists Thursday.

"He can do lots of things," Jokinen said of Smith. "I love playing with him. He can do so many things; he's a really good skater, he can get in the forecheck, he can shoot, he can make plays, and he's tough to play against. It's a combination of those things." Bjugstad said, "Obviously he had a great season. He's a super-skilled player. There's another level of hockey in the playoffs from playing in these last two games. It's a faster-pace game, and that's how he plays. I didn't not expect it out of him. But the kid's really good. He's fun to play with. He brings energy every night."

Video: NYI@FLA, Gm1: Smith scores a pair against Greiss

It's a carryover from the regular season for Smith, who didn't miss a game and scored 25 goals, 50 points and had a plus-19 rating. Five of his goals were scored on the power play and three were game-winners. In three full NHL seasons, Smith has scored 20 goals twice.

"He's so reliable," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said. "I think that's the best thing about Reilly. Obviously he had a great year, but for us as defensemen, he's so reliable out there. He's smart. He's buzzing out there right now. It's pretty fun for us to watch, but he can play a 200-foot game. It's nice to know when you see him on the ice when you're out there that you've got lot of trust in him."

Just like when the puck is in the offensive zone, rest assured Smith will be somewhere near the net, willing to do anything to help the Panthers' cause. They're certainly going to continue to rely on him to produce as this series shifts to New York on Sunday.

"It's an exciting time of year for everyone," Smith said. "It seems like there's a lot of dirty goals. I just try to get to the net and find pucks."

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