BOSTON — Chris Kelly’s night, his season and potentially his Bruins career came to an end just three seconds into his first shift Tuesday night.
Almost immediately after leaving the bench and stealing the puck from Dallas Stars center Colton Sceviour, Kelly’s left leg buckled, causing the veteran Bruins forward to crumple to the ice. He remained there for several minutes before being helped — or, more accurately, carried — down the tunnel by team trainers.
The diagnosis: a fractured left femur. The recovery time: six to eight months, meaning the Bruins would have to make a deep playoff run to have any chance of seeing Kelly on the ice again this season. As an impending free agent, Tuesday could very well have been the 34-year-old’s final game in black and gold.
Kelly rarely fills up the score sheet, makes flashy plays or even plays above the third line, but Bruin after Bruin stressed following the injury just how much he will be missed.
“You hope we can somehow compensate for his loss, but I think people are going to realize how important he is to our hockey club, not just on the ice but also in the dressing room and around the team,” head coach Claude Julien said after the game, which the Stars won 5-3.
“He’s a guy that is extremely respected by his teammates, and on the ice he’s given us everything we’ve asked for. He’s been moved around in all different positions, never says a word, but just thrives on the opportunity to play in those spots that we’ve put him. He was a very versatile player that we really counted on. No doubt he’ll be missed.”
Acquired during the 2010-11 Stanley Cup season, Kelly is one of the longest-tenured players on a largely fresh-faced Bruins roster. He’s also undoubtedly one of the most respected.
“He’s just one of those guys that, when he’s in the room, he always knows when it’s time to say something,” winger Brad Marchand said. “He always says the right thing, and guys respect him. I think that’s such a big thing with leadership: You’ve got to respect your leaders. … When you see him do all the right things and always saying stuff at the right time, you follow that.”
In addition to that leadership and locker-room presence, the Bruins also will miss Kelly’s on-ice versatility and penalty-killing prowess. Without him in the lineup for the vast majority of Tuesday’s game, Boston’s already suspect PK unit was downright dreadful, surrendering a season-high three power-play goals on four Dallas chances.
“It’s tough,” Marchand said. “I think that’s an area where he’s really going to be missed. He’s such a good penalty-killer. He’s got one of the best sticks in the league. And when you lose a guy like that on the PK, it’s tough to fill that void, and it just puts more pressure on the rest of us. It will be tough for us losing him there.”
Barring an unexpectedly rapid recovery, Kelly will have another season cut short by injury — his third in the last four years. As was the case during his previous absences, his void will not be easily filled.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins center Chris Kelly suffers a fractured femur.