NEW YORK - On Saturday afternoon at Nassau Coliseum, Chris Kelly scored his 20th goal of the season after noticing how much trouble a clearing pass would cause the Islanders’ Josh Bailey.
In other words, it was a typical Kelly goal.
“He’s in the right place to score goals,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “[Saturday] was a good example of that. He’s coming in as a late guy, there’s a loose puck, he pounced on it. It was a nice goal. I thought it was a great way to score your 20th.’’
In the second period, Brian Rolston had just screamed a slap shot on goal. Goalie Al Montoya kicked out Rolston’s drive with his left pad. Andrew MacDonald settled the rebound and spotted Bailey along the left boards, and tried to bank a pass off the wall to his teammate.
Kelly, who was in the neutral zone, recognized that he might have a chance at picking off the pass.
“I noticed that the D-man kind of put that winger in a tough spot with that bank pass,’’ Kelly said. “I’ve been on the other end of that. You’re on the boards and you’re trying to find it. I just happened to catch the guys trying to come out of the zone.’’
Kelly has made his living as a defensive-minded center. He is the Bruins’ No. 3 pivot and one of their go-to penalty killers.
But although Kelly slots in after David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron as goal-producing centers, the ex-Senator has proven he can hit the back of the net.
“He’s obviously a huge asset for our team when it comes to needing extra scoring,’’ defenseman Andrew Ference said. “Or when it comes to needing extra guys out there late in the game when you’re trying to hold on to the lead. He’s kind of like Bergy without the fanfare. That’s a great asset.’’
When the Bruins have struggled, one of their primary concerns has been lack of secondary scoring. Opponents have been able to train their sights on the top two lines.
During last year’s postseason run, the Bruins could count on four lines to generate scoring chances. In 25 games, Kelly scored five goals and had eight assists. The line of Kelly between Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder was a dependable third threesome that could take advantage of playing against No. 3 defensive pairings.
The Bruins will need similar production from Kelly and his wingmen when this year’s postseason kicks off. Of late, Kelly (20-18-38) has been centering Benoit Pouliot (14-16-30) and Rolston (7-15-22).
“He’s the guy that teams need in the playoffs,’’ Ference said of Kelly. “He’s that depth scorer, the guy that’s reliable. He isn’t flashy and doesn’t rely on pure skill to get through games. His goals have come pretty close to the net, not from very far out and not a ton of dangles. [Saturday] was a nice goal. But most of them have been from going to the net, picking up rebounds, and getting those playoff-type goals.’’
Kelly will be an unrestricted free agent on July 1. General manager Peter Chiarelli has said he will not re-sign any of the Bruins’ impending UFAs until after the season concludes. Kelly, an alternate captain, has been a perfect fit with the Bruins, and will require a raise on his annual $2.75 million salary. The Bruins do not have anybody ready to assume the third-line center role, so Kelly is their top candidate to stay in the position.
It was not surprising that the Bruins played some of their worst hockey when Ference was out of the lineup.
When Ference missed five games in early March because of an undisclosed injury, the Bruins went 2-3-0. They lost three more games in succession after Ference returned to the lineup March 11. But as Ference rounded back into form, so did the rest of his teammates.
“It’s been great,’’ Ference said of his comfort level in his last 12 games. “It’s been a really heavy schedule, too. Overall, I think our team has handled it pretty well, with the short offseason and some pretty grueling parts of the schedule. We had a lot of time off that we had to make up for. We’ve done well. Personally, I’ve stayed healthy. It’s been a good year.’’
As usual, Ference has moved up and down the six-man rotation. Part of what makes him valuable is his versatility. Ference has been most effective on the No. 3 pairing alongside Adam McQuaid, but he’s also played with Johnny Boychuk and Greg Zanon. If necessary, Ference can move to the right side.
“If it’s a good partnership, it really only takes a couple games to get in the groove of that,’’ Ference said. “I think it’s great, not just this year but over the last couple years. You have the same guys to play with. The new guys get broken in when they come over. It’s easy to pick up where you left off. I think it’s good for the coaching staff to get what makes them comfortable, too.’’
Dennis Seidenberg returned to the lineup for Sunday’s 2-1 win over the Rangers after missing the previous two games because of an infected cut on his left leg. Seidenberg (24:53 of ice time) was paired with Zdeno Chara (26:36). The duo saw plenty of shifts against Marian Gaborik, New York’s top sniper . . . Gregory Campbell (lower body) didn’t play. Campbell came up hobbling after blocking a shot in Saturday’s 6-3 win over the Islanders. Rolston took Campbell’s spot as the No. 4 center . . . In the first period, Chara hammered a slap shot off Jordan Caron’s left foot. As Caron limped off the ice, Gaborik scored the game’s first goal. Trainer Don DelNegro treated Caron on the bench. Caron didn’t miss a shift . . . Daniel Paille replaced Campbell in the lineup. Paille had been a healthy scratch for four straight games. He had two hits and two blocked shots in 10:12 of action . . . Bergeron won 17 of 19 faceoffs, equally abusing Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, and Brian Boyle . . . Joe Corvo was a healthy scratch for the seventh time in nine games . . . McQuaid missed his second straight game because of a cut above his left eye. McQuaid skated on his own Sunday in Boston, so he should be available for practice Monday . . . Tuukka Rask (abdomen/groin strain) could resume skating shortly.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.