BOSTON -- Bruins coach Claude Julien has no idea what his reconfigured lines will look like when Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals gets under way Saturday night at TD Garden.
But he is pretty confident his team will once again find its stride with Chris Kelly in the No. 2 center hole, replacing the injured Patrice Bergeron, who suffered a concussion this past Friday in Game 4 of the second-round sweep against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Bergeron still has not been cleared to skate, so it seems highly unlikely he will be ready for Saturday's game. As a result, Kelly moves from the third line, where he split centering duties with Rich Peverley, to a full-time pivot between veteran Mark Recchi and rookie Brad Marchand.
"I think right now, we feel pretty comfortable with what we've got," Julien said. "I don't think we're looking for miracles right off the bat, but we need guys who work through it. And there's no reason why we can't work through it.
The players involved in this grand experiment are also confident things will work out. They, too, believe that Kelly is a similar player to Bergeron.
"It shouldn't change anything on our line," Recchi said. "Chris is a very smart player, two-way player like Bergy is. Obviously, Bergy is better offensively and his numbers have shown that over the years, but at the same time, two-way, (they are) very similar. He's very well-positioned like Bergy is. It'll be an easy adjustment. I played with him a little bit and had no problems at all. He's a solid player, a great guy and a good leader in the dressing room."
Recchi is a veteran that has played with countless players throughout his career. Marchand, on the other hand, is in his first season and had found a unique rhythm with Bergeron this postseason. He is tied for the team lead with 5 goals and is second on the team with 11 points, just one behind Bergeron.
Will his game be impacted now that his security blanket has been erased from the equation -- at least to start the series? Marchand says no.
"He's got a lot of skill actually," Marchand said. "He's scored some big goals for us in the playoffs. He's got some big points. He's very strong on the puck down low. He doesn't get out of his element. He stays within his game. Every guy that I have ever heard of playing with him loves to play with him so I'm expecting the same."
Marchand is right; Kelly has scored some big goals for the team this postseason. He has 4 goals and 7 points, good for fifth on the team's scoring chart. But he has not proven to be a sustained scorer in his six-year NHL career; in fact, he has never topped 40 points. Bergeron, meanwhile, has topped 50 points in each of the past four seasons he has played at least 70 games.
Yet, Kelly is confident he can cut it as the No. 2 center, especially because he feels he will be able to mesh with the style his new linemates play, a style he insists is similar to that played by his former linemates.
"They play the game the way the game should be played, and so does (Michael) Ryder and Peverley, and I think that is what will make an easier transition to play with those two guys," Kelly said. "In the past, in Ottawa, I played with totally different lines where you have to be mentally prepared to change your game a little bit, but I don't think my game will change too much."
With that said, Kelly knows it will not be easy to replace one of the most creative guys in the game today. He's not pretending it will be, insisting he will get all the help he needs.
"Obviously, the loss of Bergy leaves a big hole to fill and it will take a team effort to do that," he said. "But we're a very capable group of doing that and I think that is one of our strengths -- the deepness of our team."
One of the biggest obstacles the line will have to overcome is that all three players are left-shooting forwards, a rarity on a line. But these forwards believe that their straight-ahead style and willingness to drive to the net will negate the fact that all three will be looking to shoot from the same side.
If things don't work out, Julien has already admitted he has contingency plans, fall-back options made easier by the versatility of his forwards.
"Right now it has been pretty good and I mean if we move somebody around it will probably be a centerman," Julien said. "There's a good chance it could be Peverley moving up and it could be Kelly moving back down, or even (Gregory) Campbell. Shouldn't forget Campbell because he can play center, he can also play wing. So he's a guy that can be moved around and like I said we've got a lot of different options here with different guys. So that's why we feel comfortable with our depth."