Notes: Kelly proves his worth to the Bruins

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Notes: Kelly proves his worth to the Bruins

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Chris Kelly was a punch line in March and parts of early April.

The joke was usually something along the lines of, The Boston Bruins gave up a second-round pick for this? It was most often uttered by those picking apart Bostons affinity for two-way centers with playoff experience.

Kellys biggest sin in their eyes: He wasnt a flashy offensive playmaker like the man he replaced, the injured Marc Savard.

But Kelly and Peter Chiarelli, who traded for hin, are getting the last laugh. The former Ottawa Senator forwards postseason chops (43 games) are shining through when it matters most. Kelly capped off an excellent seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens with a third-period goal that could have been the game-winner before it was wiped out by a P.K. Subban power-play score.

When Kelly first came to us, and same with Rich Peverley . . . I mean, those guys are trying to fit in and at one point it looked like, 'Are these were the right guys?' But Chris Kelly has been such a good player, said coach Claude Julien. We made the switch with Peverley at center and he was more speed and be a little bit more comfortable, and Kells has played both. Hes adapted so well.

Not only has hes been good production-wise, but hes such a reliable player. He does all those little things right. Not very often you see him make a mistake that turns into a scoring chance for the other team. Hes become very vocal as well. He felt very comfortable in that dressing room and even on the bench. I hear him talking a lot, and he certainly keeps guys in line.

Kelly, 30, finished his first Bruins-Habs playoff series with six points (three goals, three assists) in seven games. Combine his offensive production with his two-way defensive abilities, the chemistry he has achieved with Michael Ryder and Peverley, and his veteran leadership voice within the locker room, and you have a very valuable playoff role player.

Every year the teams are different, there is a bit different makeup, said goalie Tim Thomas. Chris Kelly has probably been in different Game 7's with Ottawa. I think his experience showed this series. He was one of our best players."

Thomas would be shocked to know that Wednesday night was Kellys first NHL experience with a Game 7, but wouldn't be shocked to know that this sort of pressure doesn't bother him. Kelly is the kind of solid, grounded forward that can fly under the radar during the regular season, and then flash during the playoffs.

His third-period goal came after he dumped Roman Hamrlik with a heavy hit while gaining the zone. While Hamrlik flopped and squirmed on the ice looking for a penalty, Andrew Ference grabbed the loose puck and fired it at the Montreal net. Kelly hopped out of the way of the hot shot as it headed toward Carey Price, and then the Bs forward popped home the rebound when the Habs goaltender couldnt absorb the puck.

Kelly hasnt scored a single goal from outside 10 feet of the painted area during the playoffs, but thats exactly where the vast majority of the postseason goals are manufactured.

Ference couldnt help but marvel at how close the BruinsCanadiens playoff series was between the two archrivals.

The thing that sticks out this series is how close every game has been, said Ference. I think some of the Canadiens players touched on it after our overtime game here. Its really just been a matter of bounces."

This was the third playoff meeting between the teams in the last four years. Ference has been around for all of them.

"I think the first time we played them, we were a real underdog," said Ference, referring to the 2008 matchup when Montreal was seeded first in the East and the Bruins eighth, though the B's pushed the Habs to seven games before falling. "It was the first time we made the playoffs in a long time.

The second time around we had a killer year and obviously did very well " he said of the 2009 meeting, in which it was Boston seeded first and Montreal eighth and the Bruins swept the series in four.

"This year it feels the most even of all of them and I think the games have definitely proven that right. Its been really tight, very even and good playoff hockey. I mean every team has earned their wins. Mark Recchi reached several playoff milestones when he rifled home Bostons second goal of the first period.

Recchi became the oldest player, at age 43, to score a goal in a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The goal was also Recchi's 57th in his playoff career, which moved him into a tie with Cam Neely for 36th on the NHL all-time playoff scoring list.Yeah, thats what happens when you're 50. You are going to get those things, Recchi said with a smile on his face. Its good, you know I thought it was going to be a big goal. We really came out and had some momentum and we really jumped on them right away. I give them credit: they battled and their power play got them back in the game and then they scored a short-handed goal. But we were resilient. They were resilient. It was a heck of a series, it was fun to be a part of. A lot of tradition with these two teams, they are a classy organization. The Bruins are a classy organization. Its just a fun rivalry, we are just glad we ended up on this side of it this time.

The Game 7 records for Bruins players and their head coach prior to Wednesday nights series finale: 13-41. The Game Seven records for all Habs players and their head coach prior to Wednesday nights game: 44-17. So much for statistics and past history being anybodys guide.

Ex-Boston goalie Reggie Lemelin was the honorary Bruins captain. He gave his customary Lemelin fist pump before getting the giant Bruins flag started on its journey around the lower bowl section of the crowd prior to puck drop.

Tyler Seguin and Shane Hnidy once again were the scratches for the Bruins after taking part in the pregame warm-up.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

Haggerty: Bruins plan to take it slow with McAvoy, unless . . .

BRIGHTON -- Nobody doubts that 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is going to be a game-changer down the road for the Boston Bruins.

The Boston University sophomore, expected to be in the NHL next season, is the crown jewel of a draft-and-development movement led by general manager Don Sweeney over the last three years. And if McAvoy hits the ground running with the Providence Bruins over the weekend, he may even make his NHL debut with the Bruins sometime in the next 10 days, even though playing in as much as a single game with Boston this season would burn a year off his entry-level contract.

"[The NHL] is still to be determined. It will be contract first and [the AHL] as a good first step for us," said Sweeney after signing McAvoy to an ATO (Amateur Tryout Agreement). "He's made the decision to leave [college] and we're excited about that process. It leaves some options open [for McAvoy], but first and foremost gets him playing and acclimated to pro hockey."

But there's also the reality that a 19-year-old like McAvoy is going to face challenges in pro hockey. Mastering the defenseman position at the NHL level is an extremely complicated process. It's the reason we see a lot more teenage forwards take the league by storm than teenage D-men, who typically need more development time in the AHL to hone their skills at both ends of the rink.

"[The challenge] would be getting him to figure out what works at this level and what doesn't, just like if he were in Providence," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy about the theoretical possibility of McAvoy playing in Boston soon. "We've used seven defensemen here over the last eight weeks and they've done a good job for us, so we'd have to see where he fit in and go from there . . . I've seen him here and there, but I don't know enough about his individual game at this point to know what he would specifically need to do . . .

"[Defense] is a tougher position in the NHL because mistakes are magnified. If you're a forward you've got another layer of defense to support you, so you can get away with some of that stuff. I think that's why you see generally that most of the rookies that age in the NHL are forwards."

Torey Krug signed with the Bruins out of college five years ago and had a one-game cameo with them before spending the entire next season in Providence. Krug says now that, looking back, he knows he wasn't ready to play in the NHL coming out of school and needed a season to sort things out defensively against bigger, stronger, smarter and faster opponents.

"The speed itself wasn't much of an issue, but if you fall asleep even for a second it's going to turn into a scoring chance for the other team," Krug said of the adjustment from college hockey to the NHL. "These games are not easy to play in, even for veterans in the league . . .

"I thought offensively I was ready [right away], but defensively I had a lot to learn. It's a tough league to play in. Offensively it was fun, but defensively I had my share of hiccups realizing I had to go down to Providence to work on some things."

McAvoy isn't expected to follow Krug's path. He'll get development opportunities at the AHL level at the end of this season just like fellow young D-man Brandon Carlo, who used last spring's AHL experience to vault directly into the NHL this season as a 19-year-old playing top-four minutes right from opening night.

It's also the track taken by Zach Werenski last year with the Columbus Blue Jackets. An AHL playoff run fully prepped him for his breakout season as the league's best rookie defenseman.

"It's a long time ago, but I used that [ATO] myself as a benefit and I've always been an advocate of it, and I think Robbie O'Gara, Danton Heinen and Carlo all [did it]," said Sweeney. "All the players that have been able to come on and play at a very high level against men, generally in a playoff stretch drive or the playoffs themselves, it's a unique [experience].

"When you first turn pro, you're introduced to it at a really high level and you have to adjust to it on the fly. It's about structure and understanding the voices you're hearing. And reading and reacting at the pro level are all very important [skills]. [I think] it's a great on-the-job training exercise and right now Brandon is the best example of it. He's been able to jump into our lineup this year, and that's a testament to him and also the work he did last year."

So the Bruins should take their time with McAvoy, though also allow that he could be a dominant exception to the rule and become a force right out of the chute. It certainly appears Sweeney is going to leave that door ajar,  to make sure the Bruins don't miss out on anything with a young defenseman who's already drawn comparisons to Norris Trophy winner Drew Doughty.

Bruins still in waiting mode on Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork

Bruins still in waiting mode on Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, Anders Bjork

BRIGHTON, Mass – While the NHL debut for Charlie McAvoy is a matter of “when” rather than “if” at this point after agreeing to an Amateur Tryout Contract (ATO) with the Boston Bruins, the jury is still out on Boston University center Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and University of Notre Dame winger Anders Bjork become pros. 

Bruins general manager Don Sweeney says that Forsbacka-Karlsson has yet to make a “final decision” on his status for next season after BU’s elimination from the NCAA hockey tournament, and Bjork is readying for the Frozen Four this weekend along with the rest of his Fighting Irish teammates. The 20-year-old Forsbacka-Karlsson just wrapped up his sophomore season with the Terriers and posted 14 goals and 33 points in 38 games with a plus-11 rating, and has not given the Bruins any firm word on his plans for the immediate future. 

The urgency perhaps isn’t there for the Bruins to lock things up with Forsbacka-Karlsson right this second, because he wouldn’t be a factor for this year’s NHL team. 

Meanwhile the Bruins can’t do anything with the 20-year-old Bjork until at least the end of next weekend, but have been mightily impressed with a player that’s posted 21 goals and 52 points in 38 games for Notre Dame this season. Bjork had three assists in the game that propelled Notre Dame into the Frozen Four, and there would be a great deal of urgency for the Bruins to lock up a talented forward that might be able to help them right now. 

“I’ve been able to see [Bjork] a few times including the regional [in New Hampshire] last weekend, and he was outstanding. He played every other shift, he set up goals in the game and he’s had a really nice progression as a college player this season,” said Sweeney of the explosive Notre Dame junior, who was far and away the best player at B's development camp last summer. “They’ve done a fabulous job with their team, and hopefully they get to the Finals on Saturday against Harvard, and we get the best of both worlds seeing how our prospects play in the final game. He’s had a tremendous college career to this point, and we’re excited about his development.”

McAvoy is the front-burner issue for the Bruins at this point, but it would surprise exactly nobody if both Forsbacka-Karlsson and Bjork join him in Providence in the next couple of weeks as they wrap up their AHL season.