Chris Kelly Reaches Light at the End of the Tunnel
BostonBruins.com - For seven weeks, Chris Kelly remained positive.
"I'm still smiling," he would say, with a smile.
"You can see light at the end of the tunnel - that's what they keep telling me - so I'm going to go by what they're saying."
He finally reached that point on January 28 at TD Garden, when he made his return to the lineup in the Bruins' 6-2 win over the Florida Panthers. The alternate captain had missed 22 games.
Kelly had been skating for two weeks, and traveled with the Bruins on their recent road trip that saw them pick up a pair of six-goal wins against the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders, but he had to watch from up top in the press box.
"It's always difficult, but you know, there was light at the end of the tunnel," he stressed. "And we had a plan in mind, going into the last few weeks."
"And it would have been nice to play but it was nice just being around the guys."
Injuries can be a lonely time. His return in the Bruins' 6-2 win over Florida, with another four-line offensive outburst, was anything but.
"Good, and I felt better as the game went on," said Kelly, of how he felt back in game action. "Just kind of settled in, and it was a good game to come back."
Kelly started out at center between Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, and then moved to a line with Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg to start the third period, with the Bruins up 4-1 at the time. He played both at center and on the wing, logging 15:22 in ice time and finishing the night at 80-percent on the faceoff dot. He also added to the shots barrage, landing three of the Bruins' 41 shots on goal.
"I thought I was put in a position all night to succeed, to do well," he said postgame. "It was a full night, but it was fun."
The forward was rolled out on the penalty kill, too, an area where he takes plenty of pride.
"Yeah, I was glad we took some penalties," he laughed. "No, no. For sure, I thought the whole game went well, and I was used properly. I think Claude [Julien] did a good job of playing a guy that hasn’t played in 22 games. So I felt good."
"When a guy hasn’t played in six weeks, I don’t think we stood there with high expectations more than wanting an opportunity for him to get his feet wet, and to catch up to the speed of the game," said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. "As the year goes on, it does pick up. I thought he handled himself well."
Last season in 2012-13, Kelly suffered the first major injury of his career, spending a month out of the lineup recovering from a broken left tibia (shinbone). Afterwards, he spoke about struggling to find his game. He eventually found his stride in the postseason.
So, what is he going to do this time, to not let that happen?
"Not struggle," said Kelly. "You know, I think just going out and playing. I feel a lot better than last year when I came back. It was different circumstances and timing was a lot different. I feel really good coming back this time."
With injuries, timetables can be misguiding. With last season's injury, Kelly made an earlier return. This season, he came back later than the original "six week" time frame. You really never know how the healing process will pan out.
"You know, you're told a timeline right away, and as an athlete, you say 'oh, I can be back before that,'" Kelly had said a couple of weeks before his return, when he spoke with reporters for the first time since the injury. "You try to do what you can, and it's just one of those things, you can only do so much."
"I can only drink so much milk," he had laughed, "And use the bone stim so often. It's time, and I obviously I don't really have a ton of time. During the year, you want to get back as quick as possible."
This time around, though, Kelly does have the luxury of time. He now has five games to build his game before the Olympic break, and then a month and a half before the playoffs.
"Every injury's different and I think timing is a huge thing when it comes to injuries," Kelly said.
"You see people trying to get back for different things. You see [Steven] Stamkos, he's really push hard to be back before the Olympics and you push your treatments and get aggressive but right now we didn't need to do that as much because of the situation, the timing and how the team had been doing, so it was nice, actually."
The Bruins are on a roll of three straight six-goal wins, and have earned 11 of 12 points in their past six games. The team is getting team-wide contributions, having fun, and the Bruins want nothing more than to continue that through their final stretch before the two-week break.
It's a different light at the end of the tunnel than the one during Kelly's injury battle, but it's there, and the Bruins see it.
"I think - I don't want to say the light at the end of the tunnel," Kelly smiled, before a reporter chimed in, reminding him that he has used that term quite often lately.
"Yeah I know, it's a go to," he laughed.
For an often smiling Bruin like Kelly, the idiom fits. There's always something to work towards, whether personally or as a team.
"You want to go into the break feeling good," he said. "When you lose a game and you have an entire week off… if you lose a game, you want to play the next night to bounce back. I think you want to play well going into the break and feeling good, and feeling refreshed when you come back."
After that break, the new light at the end of the tunnel takes on a much greater meaning - and Kelly will be able to take part.
"I feel ready to keep playing, and not have any setbacks, and not look behind me."