BOSTON -- When the Bruins returned to the ice Monday for practice without leading playoff scorer Patrice Bergeron, who is out indefinitely with a mild concussion, coach Claude Julien had forward Chris Kelly slotted at center between Bergeron's regular linemates, Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi.
While Julien alluded to Kelly's two-way game as a reason he could step into the pivot on the second line and mesh with Marchand and Recchi, another reason is Kelly's past playoff experience.
In 2007, Kelly was part of an Ottawa Senators team that went on a surprise playoff run all the to the Stanley Cup finals before losing to the Anaheim Ducks and current teammate Shawn Thornton. Kelly learned a lot from the experience and is doing his best to apply those lessons during the Bruins' current playoff run.
"Well, I think that it was a great opportunity to be part of that team and have that run that we did," Kelly said when asked to look back on the Sens' 2007 ride to the Cup finals. "I think I look back and there were a few things that have helped me, especially this year. No offense to you guys [media], but not listening to the media as much or reading the paper and the clips -- regardless of how the team is doing, good or bad -- I think it's better off to be in that state of mind where you're worried about the next game regardless of how the previous game went. I tend to get away from the game as much as I can in between the games and it's important to get that kind of mental break because it is such a long haul and you're always thinking of hockey and thinking about one thing and it gets mentally draining. So from that experience in Ottawa, that's what I've brought to this year."
Kelly and the Senators missed the playoffs the next two seasons before losing to the Penguins in six games in the 2010 Eastern Conference quarterfinals. The two-year hiatus from the postseason and his experience in 2007 taught him just how much of a team sport hockey is and that playing as a team is what wins at this time of year.
"I think if anything, it shows that hockey is truly a team sport," Kelly said of the playoffs. "You need everyone contributing regardless of how many minutes you play, what your status is on the team ... you need everyone to contribute and you need everyone playing at their best. If you look at the teams that are successful, if you look at the teams that win, that's the case. You get big goals from guys that normally don't score and you get big defensive plays from maybe guys that aren't known to be great defensive players. It kind of comes full circle of what guys contribute to the team."
Kelly is confident that he is joining two team-oriented players in Recchi and Marchand on his new line and isn't worried about forming chemistry with them.
"They're both fantastic players and it's been a pleasure to watch them," Kelly said. "They're both honest, hard-working players that play the game the way it's supposed to be played, and I think that will make it a much easier transition to play with those two guys."
Kelly is thrilled to be playing with a future Hall of Famer like Recchi and knows that Recchi's leadership is invaluable. In 2007, the Senators didn't exactly have a Mark Recchi in their dressing room, but they had plenty of leadership.
"Obviously no one to that [Recchi's] stature, we didn't have any future Hall of Famers in that lineup," Kelly said when asked if there was a similar veteran to Recchi that helped the team during the playoff run. "We had great veteran guys though, like Dean McAmmond, obviously [Daniel] Alfredsson. But no one to Rex's resume. But it's important to have a good mix and we had a good mix of young guys and old guys and guys that were in the middle, and that's similar to here."
As Thornton pointed out, Kelly shouldn't underrate his own leadership skills on and off the ice.
"I've known for a while that he was a good leader in Ottawa," Thornton said. "You obviously hear about guys before they get here when you trade for them. He's been there and I remember playing against him in the finals. His line was probably Ottawa's best line. So he knows what it takes this time of year and he really tries to bring it verbally, and when he speaks up people listen."
Kelly realizes that's one reason he was acquired by the Bruins on Feb. 15. The Bruins wanted another two-way player and another experienced veteran in the dressing room. It didn't take much time for him to apply those two-way skills on the ice, but he conceded there was a bit of a transition period before he could become the voice Thornton spoke of.
"It wasn't said in so many words, but I think when you come to a new team, you gotta think, 'Why was I brought here and what are my strengths and what can I do to help this team?' So obviously coming into a new dressing room with a team as successful as this, I just wanted to come in and help," Kelly said. "No one wants to be the loud guy coming into a group of guys that you don't know. So obviously it was a bit of a transition to come in here, but as I've gotten more comfortable or the guys have gotten more comfortable with me, if something needs to be said, I don't mind saying it and 99 percent it's always positive. This is a great group with a lot of guys that can step up and speak when something needs to be said."
The Bruins are counting on Kelly to continue to step up both on and off the ice in the next round.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.