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BOSTON (CBS) – I knew Chris Kelly was a terrible pick-up.
I knew surrendering a second-round draft pick to Ottawa for the defensive-minded center with a skill set similar to many of the rest of the Bruins’ incumbent bottom-six forwards was a mistake Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli would come to regret.
I knew it last Feb. 15 and I was right … well, until Game 4 of the Bruins’ first-round playoff series with Montreal last April rewrote history and Kelly’s legacy (as well as that of the trade with the Senators) in Boston sports lore.
On the one-year anniversary of the transfer of his services from the Senators to the Bruins, Kelly was back on familiar turf in Montreal during the Bruins’ 4-3 shootout win over the Canadiens Wednesday night. Before departing for the Bruins’ six-game road trip, Kelly reflected on what it meant to get moved to Boston.
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“Obviously it’s coming up to a year. At the time, I didn’t know what to expect coming to a new team, a new city,” he said. “But obviously coming here was a blessing in disguise, probably the best thing that ever happened to me in my hockey career. Hopefully the good times can last.”
As he has done so many times since Boston’s monumental comeback in last year’s Game 4 vs. the Habs, Kelly made his presence felt with his speed and his vision during Boston’s most-recent slump-busting victory.
Kelly hit Benoit Pouliot in stride at the Montreal blue line before the winger put the moves on defenseman Chris Campoli and scored Boston’s second goal of the night. All night, Kelly was in hard on the forecheck and the line of Kelly centering Pouliot and Jordan Caron probably had its best 60-plus-minute effort in its time together. That trio has been on again, off again ever since Nathan Horton went down with injury.
That Kelly’s versatile enough to fill in on the top line when David Krejci is hurt or struggling, and also savvy enough to aid an underperforming veteran like Pouliot and rookie still finding his way like Caron when called upon belies the notion that he is one of Boston’s most important pieces.
It’s hard to believe that after Boston acquired Kelly, he went 20 games before scoring his first goal. He finished the regular season with just 2-3-5 totals in 24 games for Boston. He was scoreless in the first two games against Montreal and then lit the lamp in the crucial Game 3 win. However, he also suffered a facial injury that required him to leave the team to get checked out. His health, never mind his production, was in doubt. With the Bruins down 3-1 in the second period of Game 4, it looked like Kelly would go down as a trade bust.
We all know what happened. Kelly scored the tying goal and assisted on two others, including Michael Ryder’s overtime game-winner. Boston tied the series and went on to end a 39-year Stanley Cup championship drought.
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Although he’s slumped along with the rest of the Boston offense lately, Kelly has provided the Bruins with 14-12-26 totals in 55 games. He’s also plus-22. Considering his unrestricted free agent status after this season, he’s probably also headed toward a big payday.
When the Bruins picked up Kelly, they couldn’t have imagined how far they’d go with him centering their third line. The ultra-humble Kelly recently joked that when he arrived in his new town, he predicted that the Bruins would win the Cup, he’d be named an alternate captain the next season and everyone would live happily ever after.
“This team just got the Cup,” he recently quipped while re-imagining that midwinter’s night from last season.
Neither Kelly nor anyone else was bold enough to make that statement. Instead, Kelly did his talking with his skating, shooting and checking, and proved me, and every other doubter, completely wrong.