Quick – who won the Stanley Cup last spring?
Can’t remember? Then, you’re Chris Kelly’s kind of hockey fan.
Kelly, a former Ottawa Senators centre, joined the Boston Bruins before the trade deadline last year, and played an important role (never mind how he downplays it) in helping the Bruins win their first Stanley Cup since Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr were leading the charge in 1972.
The Bruins needed 25 playoff games to get that party started, including three seven-game series and one sweep, over the Philadelphia Flyers.
But now? In this age of social media and the two-minute news cycle, the Bruins Stanley Cup victory is old news. So says Kelly, who contributed five goals and eight assists to the cause.
“What I’ve learned is that people quickly forget,” Kelly says. “And I think that’s a good thing. Yeah it’s great that we won, and no one can take that away from us, but people quickly forget that you won. That’s kind of the approach that we’re taking. This is a new year, a new opportunity to do well.”
Standing in the way of the Bruins doing “well” is a Senators team that could face Boston in the first round in a 2 vs 7 matchup of Eastern Conference teams.
The teams met last night in the Senators home ice finale, a supposedly meaningless exercise that no one wanted to suggest was about “sending a message” prior to the playoffs.
“This is not a playoff preview,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
I guess not. Not with defenceman Zdeno Chara, goaltender Tim Thomas and forward Patrice Bergeron sitting home in Boston, watching this one on TV.
Playoffs must be approaching because cliches and conspiracy theories are both on the rise in hockey dressing rooms and chat rooms.
The Bruins WANT to face the Senators, some fans were theorizing, after the Bruins chose to rest their triumvirate. Lose to Ottawa, and nurture a 2-7 matchup with the Senators, whom the Bruins have handled rather well in recent history.
Others speculated the Senators might be wise to LOAF through these final two games to encourage a 1 vs. 8 series with the New York Rangers, an opponent Ottawa has played well against.
Players, of course, don’t venture within nine miles of such talk, understanding the value in being careful what they wish for – playoff upsets thrive on teams thinking they would rather face Team A rather than B.
As for “sending messages” late in the season against a potential playoff opponent, Kelly says these are mostly “media driven” creations. Hey, a reporter can try, right?
“Guys want to go out and play to the best of their ability, do the right thing and win the game,” Kelly says. Simple as that.
Julien just as quickly poured water on any conspiracy related to leaving players at home.
“It’s been a long year, they deserve it,” Julien said, bluntly, of his no-shows. “Simple as that.”
Playoff life won’t be simple for Chris Kelly in a series against his old teammates. Kelly was a part of the Senators organization for 12 years from 1999, when he was a third round draft pick for Ottawa, until the night when general manager Bryan Murray told us how much it hurt to let him go.
Why wouldn’t a GM (and his former coach) love Kelly? He can centre any line, is responsible at both ends and is enormously popular in any room he inhabits.
Modest? Oh yeah.
After explaining why it makes sense to rest the big boys, someone asked him why he wasn’t left home to take it easy.
“I’m not a key player,” Kelly says, smiling.
Bruins fans felt otherwise during Kelly’s playoff run, especially in the first couple of rounds when he was scoring “key” goals.
Was Kelly surprised the Senators could reach the playoffs this quickly, after dealing Kelly and Mike Fisher last February?
“No, not at all,” he says. “I think all you guys counted them out a little soon. They have a lot of talent over there and a great coach the guys are happy to play for and guys are playing well. They had a lot of young guys that had a great experiene winning a Calder Cup in Binghamton, came up and wanted to make their mark in the NHL.”
I asked Kelly if he keeps in touch with his old Ottawa pals.
“I did,” he says, then pauses for effect. It’s April now, and so friendships are on hold when a playoff series looms.
“Obviously I’ve got friends over there, but it’s a hockey game,” he says. “Both sides want to win. And that’s where it stands.”
He calls facing the Senators in a playoff series another twist in what has become a pretty interesting hockey career. Getting a taste of the historic Bruins-Canadiens rivalry last spring was something he didn’t expect.
“Knowing a lot of the guys over there and having played here, it would be another experience,” Kelly said, before Game 81. “Last year I got to play Montreal in the playoffs. This is just another experience, another great challenge. Something all of us would look forward to.
If it happens, that is. Over to you, Game 82.