BOSTON – The Boston Bruins missed center Chris Kelly when he was out with a back injury for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
Kelly made sure his return to the lineup was triumphant Wednesday when he scored the game-winning goal with 1:51 remaining in the third period of the Bruins’ 2-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers on opening night at TD Garden.
Kelly fired home a loose puck from the slot after defenseman Adam McQuaid’s broken-stick shot from out high was stopped by Flyers goaltender Steve Mason’s blocker.
“I just wanted to go out there and feel good and enjoy it,” Kelly said. “Last year was taken away from me and made me realize how much I missed the game and want to be out there playing. I just tried to enjoy the whole night and tried to play my game. For sure, there’s no better feeling.”
Kelly missed the playoffs after he injured his back in the final week of the regular season and had offseason surgery to repair a herniated disk.
McQuaid, who led the Bruins in ice time with 21:47 against the Flyers, also had his 2013-14 season cut short by injury. He left the lineup after a Jan. 19 game against the Chicago Blackhawks with a quad injury. He also had ankle surgery.
"It made a big difference as far as having some experienced guys out there,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “I think there was more than that, but that was a good start for us to see those two guys (Kelly and McQuaid) contribute the way they did.”
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask stopped 19 shots. Mason finished with 31 saves but couldn’t keep the puck out of his net with the game on the line.
“The broken stick fluttered the puck and threw my timing off,” Mason said. “What threw me off the most we had two guys skate in front just as the puck was getting to me. I lost sight of it, it hit off my blocker and landed right into the crease, and they put it home.
Mason received little in the way of offensive support from the Flyers. Boston outshot Philadelphia 33-20, and the Flyers were 0-for-3 on the power play with four shots on net.
“We didn’t execute,” Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. “The first two periods, we were scared making plays. I don’t know about the other guys, but I would get the puck and I couldn’t get the confidence to make the play. We need to relax and play the game. Obviously we will look at some video.”
The Flyers were limited to 14 shots and failed to score through two periods. Philadelphia tied the game 1-1 at 4:19 of the third when right wing Jakub Voracek circled the Boston net and spun a shot toward the front; the puck deflected off Bruins center Carl Soderberg and then hit Flyers center Sean Couturier before getting past Rask to his stick side.
The Bruins, who swept the Flyers last season, have won their past four home games against Philadelphia. Boston is 13-3-1 in its past 16 against Philadelphia overall.
In the first period, the Bruins capitalized on their first power play of the season 55 seconds after defenseman Torey Krug baited Flyers forward Zac Rinaldo into a roughing penalty in the Boston zone after the play had moved up ice.
Soderberg carried the puck out of the right corner and drove the net before dishing to forward Reilly Smith at the left hash mark. Smith’s one-timer beat Mason at 10:39 for a 1-0 lead.
Smith and Soderberg became adept at running the backdoor play last season, and their success carried over into Boston's season-opening victory.
“Yeah, he’s good at that,” Smith said. “He’s really strong on the puck and somehow he sees plays that no one else sees. So if he can keep on doing that, I think it will be really beneficial for our team.”
Flyers coach Craig Berube was disappointed with the way Philadelphia started the game.
“I think we were just on our heels,” he said. “Once I talked to them about skating and moving the feet a little bit more, good things happen. You have to skate. I thought at times in the first period we looked stagnant with the puck in transition. When our D had it and we weren’t getting in position quick enough, we didn’t move the puck quick enough and there wasn’t good skating.”
The Bruins are back in action Thursday on the road against the Detroit Red Wings. The Flyers will play their home opener against the New Jersey Devils on Thursday.
The Bruins and Flyers don't meet again until Jan. 10 in Philadelphia.