BOSTON – Finally in the end, things got better for Chris Kelly.
The Bruins third line center let out a sigh of exasperation when asked how difficult the 2013 season was for him from beginning to end. He struggled badly out of the gate after only playing briefly in Switzerland during the NHL lockout, broke his leg in a collision with former teammate Chris Neil and then labored again after coming back early from the injury.
Kelly managed only 3 goals and 9 points along with a minus-8 rating in 34 games, and never really got on track with Rich Peverley while going through Chris Bourque and Jordan Caron as wingers on the third line. Then Kelly went through the first 17 games of the playoffs before registering his first point of Boston’s Stanley Cup run, and was a minus-9 in those first 17 postseason games.
“It would have been a memorable season if we had won, but there were certainly some days when I was a little frustrated,” said Kelly. “But some days aren’t going to be great, and some days are. It’s all in how you handle it, and I think I actually learned a lot about myself as a person this year.
“It wasn’t the best year for me, and everybody knows that. There was no hiding it, but I was able to deal with it. It just makes you want to work that much harder to get back to helping the team as much as you can.”
The two-way center was finally able to toss away the brace on his leg deep into the playoff run, and then Kelly started finding his game when he was matched with Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin on a forward line in the Cup Finals. In the final five Stanley Cup Final games Kelly had a pair of goals and three points along with a plus-2 rating, and 10 shots on net.
It was arguably the best five game stretch the 32-year-old two-way center enjoyed all year were the Cup Final games, and that leaves Kelly with something of a positive to carry with him over the summer. One thing Kelly wasn’t on board with was any notion that signing a big four-year, $12 million prior to this season caused the hard-working center to relax a little bit.
“Who knows if anything was affecting me sub-consciously? My mind is a complex thing that I haven’t quite figured out myself,” said Kelly. “Last year was a good year for me offensively, but we lost in the first round so it was a disappointing year. But I try to play the game the same way night in and night out. I’m always going to be more on the defensive side than the offensive side.
“That’s just me. But I don’t think signing a contract has any effect at all. I don’t ever want to be the guy where people say ‘oh, he signed his deal and now he’s comfortable.’ I don’t think there is anything to be comfortable about in pro sports because you can be traded, you can be released and you can be bought out. I signed here because I love playing here, and because I want to play here for as long as I can.”
Kelly must have been excited, then, to hear that the Bruins weren’t going to be buying out any player contracts this week. Thus far he remains in Boston’s plans and his revitalized performance during the Cup gave the Bruins a reminder of what Kelly is capable of providing for a third line that is key to the team’s depth.