A day before the Ottawa Senators staved off elimination in the Eastern Conference final, Chris Kelly got up in front of the group and offered his bit of veteran wisdom.
Kelly hadn't played in more than a month, but wanted to stress to his teammates to live in the moment of their storybook playoff run. The 36-year-old forward may dress now in Game 7 because of that leadership dynamic, Senators head coach Guy Boucher said Thursday morning.
"That's probably been my toughest decision all year long — to keep him out (of most playoff) games," Boucher said of Kelly, who's played only one post-season game after suiting up in all 82 during the regular season. "I feel that definitely today is one of those games that he can be going in and make a contribution."
One of two Stanley Cup winners on Ottawa's roster, Kelly — who won a Cup in 2011 with Boston — said his speech was casual, and nothing like the inspiration zeal one might see in the movies.
"It's no Al Pacino 'Any Given Sunday' speech," he said. "That never happens."
Instead, Kelly explained, it was just teammates having a conversation of what lay ahead. At the time, Ottawa was coming off a 7-0 thrashing in Game 5 and was facing elimination for the first time in the playoffs.
Viktor Stalberg, the only other Cup winner on the team (2013 with Chicago), and Alex Burrows also relayed their advice on handling everything that Game 6 would bring.
"I think it was important just to let the guys know, 'Stay in the moment!"' Kelly said. "It's so easy to look ahead to the future or look to the past. I think you've got to have a short memory and stay in the moment because 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."'
Boucher said the team signed Kelly (one year) specifically for the leadership he could offer a group with limited playoff experience.
A third-round pick of the Senators in 1999, Kelly tried to exude positivity while he sat out this spring. He also wanted to make sure his teammates remained poised as the pressure rose.
"He's one of those guys that's able to help us do that and he has been able to, even when he wasn't playing," Boucher said. "He was always around saying the right things and helping the young guys or the guys with less experience. He's one of those guys that's able to calm the group down, whether it's on the bench or before the game."
Kelly pointed to Mark Recchi as someone who had a similar effect on him in his earlier years. He described Recchi, who was on the Bruins' 2011 Cup team, as a true professional.
"He was by no means a rah-rah guy, but when he spoke everyone listened and it was well thought out and gave us that belief that we could win," Kelly said. "Because he'd been there before and been through different situations. It was nice to play with a guy that had been through those experiences that a lot of us hadn't."
Ottawa entered Thursday's game with an 0-5 all-time record in Game 7s.
Boucher entered with a 1-1 mark, the last one coming with Tampa in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final against Boston. There on the winning side was Kelly, whose Bruins edged the Lightning 1-0 before ultimately topping Burrows and the Vancouver Canucks for the Cup.
Kelly entered with a 4-1 career mark in Game 7s. His last one, he recalled, was Game 7 of a 2013 first-round series against Toronto — a game the Bruins rallied to win 5-4 in overtime.
"He's Mr. Integrity," Boucher said. "That's what he is."