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Wings' Smith thinks defense first

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings

Brendan Smith, who scored his first career playoff goal on Monday, will be thinking defense first in Game 5 on Wednesday. (Photo by Getty Images)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Since the time he played midget major in Toronto, Brendan Smith always thought offense first and defensive second.

Those days are long gone as once Smith turned pro he had to change his thinking.

“The thing that has gotten me to this place is my skating, my skill with the puck and how I move it, so it's definitely a balancing act,” said Smith prior to Wednesday’s Game 5. “What I have to learn is I'm not the star defenseman for getting points on the back end. I have to play my end first and things will come out from it.”

A prolific scoring defenseman at the University of Wisconsin, Smith collected his first career goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs – and snapped the Red Wings’ 101-minute scoring drought in the process – in Monday’s 3-2 win that evened the Western Conference quarterfinal series with the Anaheim Ducks.

Game 5 is tonight at Honda Center.

Still, the rookie defenseman realizes that scoring is no longer part of his job description.

“I got fortunate the other night with a goal,” Smith said. “It feels great to get that and have that feeling again. I'm just going to keep trying to work on it like that and hopefully I can get a little bit of a run here.”

It’s often hard to forget that Smith is still a rookie since he’s been part of the organization since the Red Wings used the No. 27 overall pick on him in 2007. He’s a very good young player, but like coach Mike Babcock says, Smith is like all young players who are susceptible to making mistakes.

The other thing that young players do, Babcock said – and Smith is no different – is they get too hyped early in games.

“You got to settle down each and every night,” Babcock said. “When he does that he's real effective for us. He's a work in progress, like lots of our blue line. He's done a good job for us and the thing that we like is he's ultra-competitive. We always say to him, 'What would Nick have done?’ That means simple first.”

In time the Red Wings hope that Smith can develop into a Nicklas Lidstrom-type player where every aspect of the game comes as effortless as it did for the seven-time Norris Trophy winner.

For now, Smith wants to keep things easy and not overthink anything.

“Make the simple play right away, don't try forcing it,” he said. “You saw Nick, I mean he got so great that he could make those plays right away because he saw it so quickly, he made the first pass, the simple pass, he worked it in.

“My dad always told me about (Michael) Jordan, he didn't always try to beat the competition in the first (quarter) or the first 10 minutes, he took his time, he moved the ball around and then he could take it himself and in the fourth quarter he could dominate. Things like that where you work your way into the game, you make the first pass, you get comfortable and then all the sudden it works out for you.”

As rookie seasons go, Smith has been comfortable with his defensive partner, Kyle Quincey, also a former offensive-minded defenseman in juniors.

“Anytime you change the way you play,” Quincey said, “it's a new challenge, and it's working out. We obviously didn't put the points up we'd like to but we do cherish and respect the fact we kept the puck out of our net for the most part. We take pride in that. I try to tell Smitty, 'Lets' win this game 1-0.' We have a great goaltender in Jimmy (Howard), great forwards that play well without the puck. If we do our job we'll be all right.”

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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