BOSTON – Chris Kelly’s newest piece of jewelry is a thick, padlocked chain that he wore around his neck after scoring the game-winning goal in Boston’s playoff opener on Thursday night.
The message: Try not to be the weak link
“He wasn’t,” Bruins goalie Tim Thomas said after Kelly’s goal on a long slapshot 1:18 into overtime gave the defending Stanley Cup champions a 1-0 victory over the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series.
“I had a good feeling that it was going to go in, and I had a good feeling about the guy who had the puck,” said Thomas, the reigning Vezina and Conn Smythe Trophy-winner. “I could tell he had something tonight. He’d been winging a few past me in practice the past few days.”
Thomas stopped all 17 shots he faced for Boston to earn his sixth career playoff shutout—four of them on Boston’s 2011 championship run. But he was matched for three periods by Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, a third-stringer making his playoff debut because of injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth.
Holtby made 29 saves for the Capitals, and he was still perfect when Thomas turned back Marcus Johansson with a toe save that started the Bruins on the break. Brian Rolston dropped it for Benoit Pouliot to clear the zone, and he pushed it up to Kelly.
At the top of the left playoff circle, Kelly uncorked a slapper that sailed over Holtby’s glove for the game-winner. That earned Kelly the necklace that has taken the place of last year’s good luck charm, a tattered windbreaker that the Bruins handed out to the star of the game during their run to the franchise’s first NHL title since 1972.
“It’s always nice to end it fairly early,” said Kelly, who thought the shot deflected off a defenceman’s stick. “Goalies are so good now I think the days of going down the wing and beating a goalie are long gone. So I was pleasantly surprised to see it go in.”
Washington star Alex Ovechkin consoled Holtby on the ice while the Bruins celebrated their first victory in their quest to become the first repeat Stanley Cup champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997-98.
Game 2 is Saturday at the TD Garden before the series moves to Washington for Games 3 and 4 on Monday and Thursday.
“The next game will be different,” Ovechkin said. “We know we can play against them. Holtby played a hell of a game. He was nervous but once he made the first save he calmed down.”
Kelly, 31, had career highs with 20 goals and 39 points with a plus-minus of 33 that was tied for third in the league.
“The coaching staff has talked about how he has been the unsung hero this year,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “Scoring 20 goals something he has never done before – he hasn’t always had the same wingers. He has produced this year more than ever and been so reliable defensively.”
A 21-year-old veteran of just 21 NHL games, Holtby moved into the Capitals’ lineup because of Vokoun’s groin injury and a left leg injury to Neuvirth. He played in only seven games this season, but he started five of Washington’s final 10 games and finished with a 2.48 goals-against average.
He helped the Capitals kill off six virtually consecutive minutes of a man advantage at the end of the first and the beginning of the second period, along with Boston’s 4-on-3 power play later in the second.
“I got a little sloppy with some things, and those are the things I’ll need to make improvements on for the next game,” he said. “But, mainly, I wasn’t there for the boys in overtime and I’ll definitely be better for that.”
NOTES: The last two times these teams met in the playoffs, the winner went on to reach the Stanley Cup finals. The Bruins made it in 1990, and the Capitals in 1998. … Washington’s Dale Hunter coached his first NHL playoff game tonight. As a player, Hunter had 42 goals and 76 assists with 729 penalty minutes and 23 fighting majors in 186 career playoff games with Quebec, Washington and Colorado. … The NCAA champion Boston College hockey team was honoured during a break in the first period. … The Capitals, the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, did not clinch a playoff berth until the final week of the season. They beat Boston in three of their four meetings this season, including both visits to TD Garden.