Time for Kelly to step up if Bergeron is out

Time for Kelly to step up if Bergeron is out
June 23, 2013, 10:15 pm
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BOSTON – While it would clearly be out of necessity, Chris Kelly is playing his best hockey this season at exactly the right time for a Bruins team in their biggest hour of need.

With Patrice Bergeron termed day-to-day with an unspecified injury and a big question mark for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals, Kelly might be the most natural replacement for one of Boston’s most invaluable players if he can’t answer the ball.

Kelly is a poor man’s Bergeron to be sure, but he has the same two-way sensibilities, faceoff skill and occasional offense to potentially fill in for Boston’s fallen alternate captain. The 32-year-old struggled through injuries and ineffectiveness to the tune of three goals, nine points and a minus-8 rating in 34 regular season games for the Bruins, and struggled with his skating long after he returned from a broken leg in early April.

Those struggles with his skating game and his overall performance continued into the playoffs, but Kelly finally appears to be fully removed from them.

Kelly’s skating is no longer labored and the return to his normal skating speed has also seen the revival of his game.

Improved performances returned right alongside his good skating stride, and the B’s third line center has one goal, two points and seven shots in the past four  games against the Chicago Blackhawks while centering the third line with Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin.

It was a far cry from the player that went scoreless in 17 straight playoff games to start this postseason, and it spoke to Kelly skating free and easy out on the ice for the first time in months.

It’s certainly helped No. 23 that he’s been teamed with Daniel Paille and Tyler Seguin over the last four games, and has more than kicked in their share of offense when the Bruins needed him most in Chicago at the beginning of the Cup Finals.

“He's been a real good player, and his skating is definitely better. Because of that, his confidence is definitely better, as well,” said Claude Julien of Kelly. “He's been a good player in this final series. There's no question about that. He's certainly done his job.”

Now it might be up to Kelly to “do his job” as a possible injury replacement for Bergeron in the worst case scenario for Game 6: that Bergeron’s injury keeps him on the sidelines. At least his skating and confidence level are as high as they’ve been all season for the B’s veteran leadership and solid two-way center in his third playoff go-round with the Black and Gold.