-- When Chris Kelly ripped a shot off the crossbar during a scoreless first period Sunday, the last thing he was thinking about was recording his first career hat trick.
"No, not at all," said Kelly, whose three goals carried the Ottawa Senators
to a 3-1 victory against the New York Rangers
at Madison Square Garden. "I was thinking, 'Why won't the puck just go in?'"
That's the sort of pessimistic attitude that comes with being blanked in two consecutive games. The Senators were in the midst of a 202-minute, 57-second scoring drought, the longest in franchise history, when Kelly got the Senators on the board first with a shorthanded goal in the second period.
The goal lifted some weight off the Sens' shoulders.
"I don't know if it was a big sigh of relief, but I think we definitely got looser and more confident," Kelly said. "It was a good feeling. I thought we had great jump from the start and went from there. I thought every line played well and all six D."
Kelly scored the game-winner with 2:24 left in regulation off a defensive breakdown by the Rangers, then tacked on an empty-netter with a diving effort in the neutral zone with 0.8 seconds remaining. It was a virtual offensive explosion for the Senators after shutouts at the hands of the San Jose Sharks on Thursday and Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
"I thought we played well last night, unfortunately we didn't come out with the win," Kelly said of the 1-0 shootout loss to the Sabres. "But I thought right from the start (Sunday), we played well and had the momentum, obviously forced them to call a timeout with how well we were playing. We built from there and kept going."
Kelly said it was his first hat trick since junior, when he played with the London Knights of the OHL. But he scored three goals against the Rangers in the Sens' 8-5 preseason victory on Oct. 2. When asked what it was like to record this hat trick in a "real game," Kelly had some good-natured fun with reporters.
"Real game? I had to take a nap like it was a real game," Kelly joked. "I had to eat pregame like it was a real game. I had to show up like it was a real game."
Goaltender Pascal Leclaire was a big reason why Kelly had a chance to play the role of hero. He stopped 25 shots to record just his second win of the season and snap the Senators' three-game slide. He was subjected to numerous odd-man rushes, only allowing Brandon Prust
's shorthanded goal on a 2-on-1 rush in the second period.
With the score tied at 1-1 in the third period, Leclaire made his biggest save when he stopped Brandon Dubinsky
on a 3-on-1. Dubinsky had a gaping net at which to shoot, but Leclaire was able to deflect it away.
"Pazzy played unbelievable and made a number of big saves," Kelly said. "One in the third on a 3-on-1 on Dubinsky, which was fantastic. It was just a great team effort."
Leclaire admitted, though, that he caught a break on that shot.
"I got a little bit lucky," said Leclaire, who had the puck fired directly into him by Dubinsky despite the net being wide-open. "It even went through me and went out the other side. I got a piece of it. We'll take it. Sometimes you don't get the bounces your way, but today I got a little lucky on that play."
The Senators carried the play during the opening period, outshooting the Rangers 5-0 early while using a suffocating forecheck to tilt the ice. Rangers coach John Tortorella used his timeout 4:09 into the game and said afterward, "Our guys were asleep the first 20 minutes."
"For me, it was a tough one to eat because it was still a winnable game," Tortorella said. "I thought we did some really good things. We got some good looks with the power play (0-for-4, three shots) but we couldn't finish. As poorly as we started, I thought we regrouped and we could have won."
On Kelly's shorthanded goal, forward Derek Stepan
was manning the point and had the puck bounce over his stick. Kelly outraced Stepan for the puck in the neutral zone and snapped a shot past goaltender Henrik Lundqvist
, who was sharp in making 22 saves.
But Tortorella put the blame for that goal on star forward Marian Gaborik
, who put Stepan in a difficult position with the pass. Tortorella was also blunt about what wrong on Kelly's game-winning goal, which was scored from in front of the net with nary a Ranger defender near Kelly.
"Everything. Just an absolute blown coverage," Tortorella said. "I'm not going to dissect as far as players, but it's a simple coverage. It's an absolutely blown coverage."
The line of Gaborik-Erik Christensen-Sean Avery with the defensive pair of Steve Eminger
and Michael Sauer
were on the ice, but Tortorella didn't say who was responsible for Kelly on the play.
The Rangers had won two straight and four of five entering Sunday, so the Senators will have some added confidence when they head to Montreal to face the Canadiens on Wednesday night.
"We had a lot of opportunities to have the lead coming out of the first. I thought the guys really persevered," Sens coach Cory Clouston said. "We played hard. Obviously New York is playing really well right now. It's a really good win."
Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo