MONTREAL — If you saw Brendan Smith’s battles with Canadiens forward Andrew Shaw in Game 1 on Wednesday night, you’d know this wasn’t the newest Rangers defenseman’s first rodeo.
Smith, 28, a teammate of Ryan McDonagh’s at the University of Wisconsin, played four full seasons with Detroit, including 27 playoff games, before being acquired before the March 1 trade deadline for a third-round pick in this June’s draft and a second-round selection in 2018.
“He’s a competitor. I know him from when we played Chicago,” Smith said with a grin Thursday after practice at Bell Centre. “Chances are we’re going to tangle.”
Smith, who is 6-2 and 211 pounds, has all that postseason experience, which is one of the reasons Rangers general manager Jeff Gorton reeled him in. In those 27 games, he delivered 46 hits, 24 blocked shots, 36 shots on goal, two goals and six points.
In his first playoff game for the Rangers on Wednesday night, Smith was at that level. He played 16:15 and had four shots on goal, three hits, two blocked shots and numerous scrums with Canadiens forwards. He also was whistled for a high-sticking minor, which coach Alain Vigneault disputed.
“I thought he played a real good game,” Vigneault said. “He was under control, he moved the puck as good as he’s been since he’s been with us, and that’s the type of hockey we need from him.”
Smith dressed for 18 games after arriving in New York. “I’m still trying to get comfortable,” he said yesterday. “It’s always hard to move to a different team and learn systems and players’ tendencies. I’m still learning, but I feel I’m light years ahead of where I was before.”
His playoff experience showed in the bruising 2-0 victory on Wednesday night. “Sometimes that first five minutes, it’s not really like there’s a puck alive out there,” he said. “You’re trying to finish and get yourself engaged. You know what? If they’re hitting us more, it means we have the puck more, and that’s an area we want to improve.”
To make a run in the playoffs, Smith said, “one of the biggest things is secondary scoring. When you get that, you’re a tough team to play. Obviously, there are other areas: The goaltender has to basically be your best player, but you’ve got to be sound defensively and you need secondary scoring. We’re going to try and keep rolling.”
The former Red Wing remembers how his old team prepared for the Rangers.
“We talked about trying to limit their speed and slow them down, but playing with this team now, I see they make some great plays,’’ he said. “As a D-corps, you just want to get it into their hands. And that forward depth, it’s hard because other teams to try to match; you almost can’t match. And I didn’t know how good Hank was. Everybody talks about The King, but to play in front of him is pretty cool.”