Only a spotlight from a television camera was shining on him.
In the dark with the spotlight still on him probably best describes how the 22-year-old winger has felt recently.
Prior to his goal that helped the Bruins to a 4-1 win over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night at TD Garden, Smith had scored only three times in the previous 25 games. Entering Monday, his skid without a goal in regulation was at 15 games, although he did score the game-winning goal in a shootout win over the Tampa Bay Lighting on March 8.
“Personally, it was a little tough not scoring for that many games, but I tried to stay positive and not get too down on myself because the chances were still coming,” Smith said.
After the goal went in and the red light went on, it appeared as though Smith said, “Finally.” In the locker room, he wouldn’t confirm or deny his on-ice statement.
“I don’t know, I’ll have to check the replay,” Smith said with a grin. “I’m not sure -- maybe.”
As the pressure mounted for Smith personally, the saving grace has been the Bruins’ winning streak, which reached nine with Monday’s victory.
“That definitely helps a lot that our team has been playing good hockey,” Smith said. “It definitely kept a more positive atmosphere at the rink. The guys and the coaching staff have been great, trying to help me through it.”
Since the goals weren’t coming as frequently as they were earlier in the season, Smith focused on shooting the puck more. He then found himself forcing the puck too much, but was trying anything to build momentum.
After the Bruins’ morning skate on Monday, Julien said he wouldn’t call Smith’s goal-scoring drought a slump because the young forward has been competing and working hard. Based on the last couple of games for Smith -- nine shots on net in his previous three games -- Julien knew No. 18 was turning the corner.
Smith finally was rewarded for his hard work when he tallied his 19th goal of the season at 7:50 of the third period to give Boston a 3-1 advantage.
“The last game he had six shots on net and you could see it turning around, so it was just a continuation of that,” Julien said. “Right now, his work ethic and his mindset are good, so as long as those two things are there he’s going to get better all the time, and tonight was proof of that.”
Smith’s goal was typical of many he’s scored for the Bruins this season. His gritty play and willingness to crash the net translated into many goals earlier this season, and that’s how he scored on Monday. The Bruins had control of the puck in the offensive zone when Minnesota goalie Darcy Kuemper made the initial save on Patrice Bergeron’s shot, but Smith crashed the off post and pumped in the goal.
“I don’t think I’ve scored a pretty goal this year, so I figured it was going to come that way,” Smith said with a smile. “It had been a long time, so it’s definitely a good feeling.”
Between Oct. 12 and Jan. 28, Smith had three separate point streaks of five, four and seven games. Since he’d experienced success earlier in the season, knowing he had the talent and ability to produce offensively helped him get through his recent drought.
“Definitely helps,” he said. “The start of the year I definitely went through a bit of a hot streak and I mentioned a few times that you can go cold just as fast as when you’re hot, so hopefully I’m through this and I don’t go through another 15 games. I’m just happy to help the team win tonight.”
At one point, Julien realized Smith had been putting too much pressure on himself, so the coach pulled him aside and told Smith to keep his game simple, play hard and have fun. It sounds almost elementary but it’s true.
“He was coming to the rink and getting on the ice and instead of smiling he was just carrying the weight that he didn’t need to carry,” Julien said. “So we were just trying to help him take some of that weight off his shoulders.”
It was evident after Monday’s win that finally scoring did just that for Smith. While trying to describe his game of late, Smith credited his teammates and Julien for helping him stay focused.
“He definitely talks to you and gives you little tidbits and tries to help out a little bit,” Smith said. “It’s the same with a lot of my teammates. The biggest thing for me is I was still getting chances, so it was only a matter of time.”
Since he has been getting some chances in the past few games, Smith said he was hoping it would finally go in for him Monday. It did, and the long-awaited goal helped the Bruins win their ninth straight.