NEW YORK, N.Y. – Chris Kelly had to wait 434 games to record his first NHL hat trick.
He certainly made it count by lifting the goal-starved Ottawa Senators to a 3-1 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday night.
The 30-year-old centre, in his seventh season with the Senators, scored shorthanded, added the go-ahead goal in the closing minutes of the third, and finished things off with an empty netter. The Senators, who hadn’t scored in more than 200 minutes before Kelly’s first goal, won for just the third time in 11 games (3-7-1).
“I scored a hat trick this pre-season but the guys said that didn’t count, so I have to go back to juniors for my last one,” said Kelly, who played for the London Knights and Sudbury Wolves in the Ontario Hockey League between 1997-2001. “It sure felt good to get one for real in the NHL.”
Kelly, who doubled his season goal total to six, gave Ottawa a 1-0 lead in the second period on the penalty kill. His game-winner snapped a 1-1 tie with 2:24 left in the third after he flipped the puck over goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s right shoulder.
He completed the hat trick with an empty-net goal in the game’s final second.
Pascal Leclaire made 25 saves for his second win of the season (2-6-1). The struggling Senators (12-14-2) had been shut out in their previous two games at home.
“We played hard. I thought the guys persevered,” Senators coach Cory Clouston said. “This is a building where it’s hard to get momentum. The crowd gets into it. We wanted to make sure we got pucks in deep. We did that.”
Brandon Prust scored a short-handed goal for the Rangers (16-12-1), who lost for only the third time in nine games. New York was 0-for-4 on the power play.
“New York is playing very well right now. It’s a really good win,” Clouston said.
Rangers coach John Tortorella was perplexed by his team’s lethargic play in a rare 5 p.m. start.
“That better not be a reason for our slow start,” Tortorella said. “We were off balance and asleep for the first 20 minutes. Even with that, this was a winnable game.”
The Rangers were off on Saturday while Ottawa lost 1-0 at home in a shootout against Buffalo. New York swept a home-and-home series from the New York Islanders on Thursday and Friday.
Lundqvist finished with 22 saves for the Rangers, who will finish a home-and-home series against the Senators with a visit to Ottawa on Thursday.
“They started a lot better than we did,” said Lundqvist, just 3-6-1 at home, but 11-10-1 overall this season. “We were in this game. We worked ourselves back and we definitely had an opportunity to win it. We just came up short.”
Kelly put the Senators ahead 4:27 into the second after Rangers forward Derek Stepan couldn’t keep the puck in the Senators zone. Kelly stole the puck and skated in alone on Lundqvist, beating him with a wrist shot from the left circle with Jesse Winchester off for tripping.
It was the first goal in 202 minutes 57 seconds for the Senators, who also lost 4-0 at home to San Jose on Thursday. Ottawa’s previous goal was scored by Nick Foligno at 6:30 of the first period of Monday’s 4-1 home loss to Edmonton.
Prust got the Rangers even at 10:50 of the second, beating Leclaire with a wrist shot from the left circle on a 2-on-1 break. It was Prust’s third goal of the season and second in three games. It was also New York’s sixth short-handed goal.
Rangers forward Ryan Callahan was also baffled and frustrated by the lack of offence.
“You go in and prepare the same way, but for whatever reason, we didn’t get the start we need,” he said “We had a better second and third, but our start definitely has to be better.”
Kelly recalled that a 2-0 Ottawa victory at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 14 propelled the Senators on a team-record, 11-game winning streak last season.
“Hopefully this is the start of another good run for us,” he said. “We’ve really struggled of late, so this win is very important.”
Notes: The Rangers are 0-2 while wearing their dark blue 85th anniversary “Heritage Jerseys.” … The game marked the return of two-time Rangers forward Alexei Kovalev, the last remaining active member of the New York’s 1994 Stanley Cup-champion team. The 37-year-old Kovalev recorded his 1,000th career point with a goal against Los Angeles on Nov. 22. … Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson is the longest serving NHL captain. He is in his 11th season at the helm after being appointed in October 1999. … The Rangers were credited with 41 hits, increasing their league-leading total to 872.