BostonBruins.com - For the Bruins’ 17 games this postseason, Chris Kelly had been staying positive, focusing on his defensive game, his workhorse role on the B’s shutdown penalty kill, his strength in the faceoff circle, the little details of the game.
He was trying to score - it wasn’t a barrage, but he put up 19 shots in the process.
For 17 games, he was happy for his teammates, and his team to have powered through three series to reach the Stanley Cup Final for the second time in three years.
On Saturday night at the United Center in Chicago, with the Bruins down 1-0 in the second period to the home Blackhawks, and down 1-0 in the series, Kelly was rewarded with his first goal - and point - of the postseason.
It couldn’t have come at a better time. Quality, not quantity, an accurate description.
The veteran center had landed two shots on Hawks’ netminder Corey Crawford, before the third found the back of the net 14:58 into the second period, to tie the game at 1-1, and eventually send it to overtime, where Kelly’s linemate for the night, Daniel Paille, netted the game-winner to even the series at 1-1 heading back to Boston.
"It’s even more important to play the other parts of the game when you are not contributing offensively and I think you need to pick up other aspects of your game to make them better in order to be a better all-around player," said Kelly, who sat at the postgame press conference podium in the Player of the Game Army Rangers jacket, given to a teammate who stepped up to lead the way.
"Everyone would love to score, and score consistently, but for whatever reason I haven’t. I try to stay positive. As long as the team is doing well, I know that is kind of a cliché, but that is kind of how our room is. Any given night someone can step up and Piesy showed that tonight."
Kelly also stepped up, and it came at an opportune moment.
"He’s been snakebitten for quite a while and when you don’t score, eventually you get scored on and the minuses keep creeping up. I think that was certainly something that bothered him," said Head Coach Claude Julien.
"I thought he played well tonight and he’s played well in some games, but then again, like I said, offensively he hasn’t been able to produce. A good time obviously to have a great game. His effort and I think his will to be a better player was always there. You’re just waiting and hoping for that moment. [Saturday night] was a great night for that to happen."
The center had come close recently, including a near chance to convert in the triple overtime of Game One that the Hawks ended up taking.
"I hoped. You try to analyze your game after each game," Kelly said, of coming close to contributing offensively. "You try to see that you had opportunities and I felt in the Pittsburgh series, even the Rangers series that scoring chances were starting to come a little more frequently. Bounces were starting to kind of go my way. Obviously, it takes time. Like I said, I’d love to contribute on a regular basis, but I haven’t. I can try to do other things."
"Kells and Seggy have been taking a little bit of heat lately for not doing so well offensively, but Kells, defensively, has been huge for us," said Paille of his centerman for Game Two. "When you don’t score, you’re going to get scored against and minuses. But on the penalty kill, he’s been phenomenal."
Kelly has been a full-time NHLer for eight seasons with Boston (and Ottawa before being traded in 2010-11). He alternates wearing the ’A’ with Andrew Ference, to join alternate captain Patrice Bergeron and captain Zdeno Chara. When looking for a candid take on the team and its mindset in the locker room, Chris Kelly is one of the player you go to.
When he’s not contributing offensively, he may not be noticed as much, but his teammates know how much he brings to the team.
"Chris is a guy that is a leader on our team and does a lot of the little things that maybe go unnoticed," defenseman Adam McQuaid said in his Stanley Cup Final player blog for NHL.com. "Not unnoticed to us, but he’s been kind of snakebitten on the score sheet."
"He’s been doing a lot of the little things, killing penalties, blocking shots and he is a leader on and off the ice for us. It was nice to see him get that goal. It was a big goal for us to get us back in the game. It was a pleasure to be able to hand [’The Jacket’] off to him and give a little speech."
Coach Julien is also happy to see the leader find the back of the net and give a morale boost to himself and the team.
"No doubt. Just because he doesn’t see himself as a goal scorer doesn’t mean he has to continue to have a goose egg on his stats. There’s no doubt that bothered him, but not to the point that it was going to stop him from coming in every game and giving an effort," said Coach.
"Sometimes that’s tough, whether you like it or not it will weigh on you. When you get a night like that, it certainly takes a lot of weight off your shoulders. Hopefully, creates some positives thinking and some positive thinking moving forward."
"He and that line, Seggy and Piesy, were really good for us, felt comfortable enough to send them against the second line when I had no choice and didn’t mind having to leave them out there."
His teammates were happy for him, too.
"I think you see it gives our team a jump," said blueliner Torey Krug, on the boost it gives the B’s to see a player like Kelly get the relief of scoring and being able to help the team offensively.
"You see a guy contribute that’s obviously been a little bit snakebitten. He’s a very important part of our team, and when you see a guy score a goal, the whole bench kind of jumps up and you get excited. Guys have a little more pop in their step when they’re skating up and down the ice, and I think it gains momentum for our team."
"It’s really important for guys like that to step up and we’re lucky to have Kells."