Ottawa Citizen

For Chris Kelly, it’s all about ‘staying in the moment’

Senators bring veteran forward back into lineup for crucial Game 5 against Bruins


Eleven years and 90 games removed from playing his first Stanley Cup playoff game with the Ottawa Senators, Chris Kelly returned to the post-season with the Senators against the Boston Bruins on Friday night.

The situation couldn’t have been more different.

Back in 2006, Kelly was a wide-eyed 25-year-old, trying to soak up everything he could from establishe­d veterans including Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Phillips and Wade Redden during the era when the Senators always appeared poised for an extended playoff run.

Now, Kelly is the seen-it-all 36-year-old veteran, trying to “do my part” after suffering the sting of being a healthy scratch for the opening four games of the series.

Kelly, who returned to the lineup because of the undisclose­d upper-body injury suffered by Tom Pyatt when hit in the head by Boston’s Kevan Miller in Game 4, spent the first week of the playoffs quietly in the background, skating with the other extras.

“It’s always difficult watching, but it makes it easier when the team is playing well and guys are succeeding and having fun,” Kelly said of his role as a cheerleade­r. “You just try to be that support system, whether you’re in or not.”

Kelly, a defensive specialist, saw limited action in even strength situations in Game 5. That was to be expected. His bigger value is in penalty killing and he was paired with Viktor Stalberg as a second unit of forwards, after the first duo of Zack Smith and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

It was an act of faith on Senators head coach Guy Boucher’s part. Kelly struggled late in the regular season, part of a penalty killing unit that dipped significan­tly in the final month, raising questions about whether he will be back next season.

Yet Boucher said that making Kelly a healthy scratch to start the series was “probably the toughest thing I had to do” because the team had a full complement of healthy forwards for the first time.

Boucher could have leaned on Tommy Wingels, who played in the series opening 2-1 loss, but insisted that Kelly’s experience and position as a centre is what gave him the nod.

Kelly, of course, won the Stanley Cup with Boston in 2011 and went back to the final with the Bruins in 2013.

“(Kelly) has been there, he knows exactly how to handle himself,” Boucher said.

“He helps with our identity, he helps with the intangible­s.”

Friday marked the 18th time in Kelly’s career that he was in position to finish off an opponent in a series. His record was 11-6, including the extended run with the Senators to the Stanley Cup final in 2007 and with the Bruins in 2011 and 2013.

Appropriat­ely enough, Kelly sounded an awful lot like his coach when discussing how the Senators needed to approach the contest, “staying in the moment” and insisting the opening 10 minutes were vital.

He said the Senators needed to use the Canadian Tire Centre crowd for an energy boost, but not get so excited that they were too aggressive and gave up odd man rushes early.

“It’s a balance,” he said. “You see the good teams, they hover on that line constantly. They use that home ice advantage and stay in that bubble on the road. They don’t get flustered one way or another, at home or on the road.”

The Senators did do that, waiting for the opportunit­y when Mark Stone opened the scoring on a breakaway against Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask. Pageau made it 2-0 on a breakaway of his own, but as Kelly knew all too well from his own history with the Bruins, they wouldn’t go away easily. Citizenkwa­rren

 ?? JEAN LEVAC ?? Chris Kelly earned his chance to play in the series against Boston Friday night, after sitting out the first four games.
JEAN LEVAC Chris Kelly earned his chance to play in the series against Boston Friday night, after sitting out the first four games.
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