Veteran Chris Kelly urging Senators to ‘stay in the moment’

Ottawa Senators' Chris Kelly (22). (Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP)

PITTSBURGH – It was not a speech you’ll later find in a movie.

There was no yelling or screaming, no finger pointing or stomping feet. But Chris Kelly had a message for his Ottawa Senators teammates the other day and he spoke from the heart. One of two players in the dressing room who has lifted the Stanley Cup, he talked about the need to keep your mind in small places.

“These are great opportunities, these are great moments, and you don’t want to be thinking about the past or thinking about the future and miss out on the opportunity you have right at that moment,” Kelly said Thursday before Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final. “We’re human beings, believe it or not, and it’s easy for us to dwell on the past and to look to the future and think about that. You know, the future doesn’t happen unless you stay in the moment.

“I just tried to explain that to them.”

The Senators managed to put a 7-0 shellacking from the Pittsburgh Penguins behind them and squeezed out a 2-1 win in what was a must-win Game 6.

Now they are back at PPG Paints Arena for one more date with the defending champs. It’s telling that the only lineup change being considered by head coach Guy Boucher was inserting Kelly into the lineup for the first time since Game 5 of the opening round.

“Today is one of those days where it’s more about being able to trim things down and really focus on what’s important and get everything else out of the way and making sure our players are poised mentally, not wasting any nervous energy in the morning,” said Boucher. “He’s one of those guys that will help us do that.”

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Kelly has played in five previous Game 7’s and won four of them. That includes the 2011 Stanley Cup final in Vancouver and the Eastern Conference final that same spring against a Tampa team coached by Boucher.

Those experiences have helped him make peace with the narrow margins a game like this presents.

“It’s fractions,” said Kelly. “It’s incredible. Looking back and thinking about the Game 7’s I played in, three of them went in to overtime. Like how close can you get?”

Pittsburgh has enjoyed the run of play in this series and believes it could already be over. The Penguins controlled a significant portion of the zone time in four of six games, but goalie Craig Anderson helped Ottawa find a way to win three of them.

To get that fourth, and to book a date with Nashville in the Stanley Cup final, Ottawa knows it will need everyone playing at their absolute best. That’s why Boucher puts so much stock in the mental energy of the group.

In addition to Kelly, injured winger Alex Burrows addressed the team prior to Game 6.

“There’s a lot of poise, and there’s a lot of calm in the way they see it,” said Boucher. “It’s just a game, but the tough part is to actually take everything up and make it just a game, make it what it is. It’s ice and boards, our team against their team, the same as it was yesterday.”

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The Senators are trying to become the first Canadian team to play for the Cup since Vancouver in 2011. None have won it since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993.

Very few expected them to be in this position and, after the blowout loss here in Game 5, they gathered before practice to talk things out and make sure they didn’t just allow it to slip away.

“Everyone always thinks that we always have these movie speeches, where someone gets up and – that never happens,” said Kelly. “It’s no Al Paccino ‘Anything Given Sunday’ speech. It’s very casual. I think it’s a group just having a conversation and believing in each other.”

The 36-year-old understands the importance of staying in the moment.

He played just 11 games for the Boston Bruins last season before suffering a fracture femur and returned to Ottawa as a free agent in the summer. This could very well be his final kick at the can in the NHL.

“I wanted to come back and prove I could still play,” said Kelly. “I was very fortunate that Ottawa gave me an opportunity to do that – I played 82 games in the regular season and now I’m with a great team that’s in the conference final, Game 7 – so I’m happy.”


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