When Peter Chiarelli traded a second-round pick to Ottawa for Chris Kelly, it left a lot of people wondering why the Bruins needed another quick and hard-working center, Didn’t the team already have enough of those?
Turns out, Kelly is exactly what the Bruins needed.
Kelly, who had just 5 points in 24 regular-season games with Boston, has proved his value in the playoffs. In 11 games, Kelly has four goals and three assists, most of which were in clutch situations in the seven-game war with Montreal in the opening round. His 7 points matches the total he had in Ottawa’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2007.
Now we know why Ottawa GM Bryan Murray was so upset he traded Kelly. Ottawa beat writers often chided Murray that Kelly was the coaches’ pet, as Murray never said anything but positive things about the center.
“I just traded one of the good guys and most respected players on this hockey team,” Murray said.
Even Boston GM Peter Chiraelli is a little surprised about just what the Bruins have gotten from Kelly. By his own admission, Chiarelli figured Kelly would be a useful guy on the penalty kill and a guy who could be used to win some face-offs.
However, the 30-year-old Kelly has been so much more than that.
In addition to scoring clutch goals against Montreal, Kelly played most of that series (and all of the series against Philadelphia) wearing a cage to protect a facial fracture suffered in Game 3 against the Habs. The injury didn’t slow Kelly at all; in fact, it seemed to make him even more aggressive.
Boston coach Claude Julien praised Kelly on his work ethic and his decision-making ability, pointing out he rarely makes a mistake with the puck or with positioning that leads to an opportunity for the opponent.
For his part, Kelly is just happy to be helping the team win. He’s been to the finals once, and he wants to get back again – with a different result this time.
“It’s always nice to contribute offensively,” Kelly said after Game 7 win over Montreal. “When I came in here, I didn’t have the greatest start, but I’ve adjusted and feel more comfortable with my linemates, and it’s nice to contribute and help the team win.”
Julien and Chiarelli have both lauded Kelly for his ability to do all the little things (win faceoffs, make good decisions, win battles, block shots, kill penalties) well. That is ironic, seeing Kelly is now being asked to fill in the spot of another player who does all those things about as well as anyone in the NHL – Patrice Bergeron.
Bergeron, of course, is day-to-day with what has been termed a mild concussion. He is likely out for Saturday’s Game 1 with Tampa Bay, and conventional wisdom says that with his concussion history, the Bruins will not rush Bergeron back into the lineup.
That means that Kelly will center Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi for at least one game of the series with the Lightning – a big deal seeing the Marchand-Bergeron-Recchi line was Boston’s best trio during the first two rounds.
“Obviously you can’t replace Bergy,” Kelly told the Boston Herald. “He does every little thing that maybe goes unnoticed by a lot of people, but not by us. He does all the big things, too, that you guys notice as well. You can’t replace him. He’s irreplaceable. Hopefully, he’s good to go.”
Until he is, fans are going to be looking for all those wonderful things Murray, Chiarelli, and Julien have seen in Chris Kelly.
Layoff should not be a huge issue
A lot has been made of the eight-day layoff the Bruins will have had by the time the puck drops for Game 1 on Saturday night, and rightfully so. The Bruins struggled in the first week against Carolina in 2009 after a 9-day layoff, and it took Detroit three-plus games to get the rust off its game before rallying from 3-0 down to force a Game 7 tonight.
However, it is important to remember that Tampa will have not played a game in 10 days, so rust will be just as much a factor for the Lightning and it is the Bruins. It could come down to which team is tougher mentally – which is also a tough call. We all know the Bruins rallied from a 2-0 hole in round 1 to beat the Canadiens, but the Lightning were down 3-1 and had to win twice in Pittsburgh to get past the first round.