By Joe Haggerty
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.