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 defenseman’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 honored 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.
RANGERS 4, SENATORS 2: Marian Gaborik and Brian Boyle scored minutes apart in the second period to break open a tight game, and the top-seeded New York Rangers opened their first-round Eastern Conference series with a 4-2 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night.
The Rangers, the No. 1 seed in the East for the first time since they won the Stanley Cup in 1994, shook off their 1-2-1 regular-season mark against the Senators and easily dispatched them in Game 1.
Ryan Callahan scored in the first period, Gaborik and Boyle pushed the lead to 3-0, and Brad Richards added a goal in the third for the Rangers. New York will host the No. 8 Senators again on Saturday night before the best-of-seven series shifts to Ottawa for Games 3 and 4.
Henrik Lundqvist was sharp early, stopping Jason Spezza on a partial breakaway and then turning aside Jim O’Brien, who weaved his way through the New York defense before getting off an in-close drive that was knocked away.
Lundqvist’s only blemishes came in the third period. Daniel Alfredsson wrecked his shutout bid at 10:05, and Erik Condra made it 4-2 with 2:19 left. Lundqvist finished with 30 saves.
Craig Anderson stopped 27 shots, but it wasn’t enough for him to maintain his perfect mark at Madison Square Garden.
The Senators dominated play throughout the second period, but a couple of late lapses turned a tight game into a virtual runaway.
Ottawa kept up constant pressure in the New York end. It just didn’t produce any results. The Senators hemmed in the Rangers several times and forced a handful of icing calls. It got so bad in the middle of the second that New York coach John Tortorella was forced to use his lone timeout just to give his guys a breather after back-to-back icings.
Even with three straight power plays that spanned the first and second periods, the Senators were frustrated by either Lundqvist or players in front of him who dived to block shots from ever getting through.
After the Rangers killed a questionable tripping call against defenseman Ryan McDonagh, while they nursed a 1-0 lead, Gaborik gave his club a bit of insurance.
The Rangers’ leading scorer got the puck along the right wing boards, after the Senators turned it over in their own end, and drove toward the net. He stopped short in front of Anderson, shifted the puck to either side of his stick while looking for an opening, and then slid a shot into the net to make it 2-0 with 3:36 left in the second.
Gaborik, who scored 41 goals in the regular season, had another in-close chance earlier in the period, but elected to pass instead of shoot. He did it all himself this time in netting the unassisted goal.
The Rangers spent much of the two off days before the series opener working on their anemic power play. It didn’t click late in the second, while Filip Kuba served a hooking call, but New York connected 13 seconds after the defenseman left the box.
Pressure continued to mount in the Ottawa end after the power play expired, and Artem Anisimov lunged to nudge a bouncing rebound in the slot back to Boyle in the right circle. He got just enough of it to set up Boyle, who snapped in a shot with just 53.8 seconds left in the second — 2:42 after Gaborik’s goal — to push the lead to 3-0.
The Senators were outshot 12-11 in the second, but it seemed much more one-sided in Ottawa’s favor until the Rangers’ late strikes.
Callahan was itching to play in the postseason after being forced to miss New York’s first-round loss to Washington last year because of a broken ankle. He made his presence felt throughout the spirited first period.
Callahan netted the first goal of the series when he got to a rebound of Anisimov’s shot from the right point at the bottom edge of the right circle and whipped the puck around Kuba along the ice and between Anderson’s pads with 7:59 left in the first.
The Rangers captain also stepped up at center ice and thwarted a Senators rush when he laid a crushing hit on Ottawa forward Jesse Winchester and sent him flying to the ice with just over two minutes left in the first. Chants of “Call-ie, Call-ie” echoed through the towel-waving crowd at Madison Square Garden, that hosted Game 1 of a playoff series for the first time since the first round in 1996 against Montreal.
NOTES: Boyle, who had 11 goals in the regular season, scored five of them in the final nine games. … The Rangers outshot Ottawa 8-2 in the second period after the timeout with 10:02 remaining. … Lundqvist, who has never advanced past the second round, is 16-20 in 36 postseason games. … Anderson had been 6-0 with a 1.13 goals-against average and two shutouts in his previous Madison Square Garden starts.