Bruins have to hope winger Ryder doesn’t heat up too early

Ryder scores/By S. Bradley

BOSTON — After what has amounted to another lost regular season by Michael Ryder, the Bruins have to be hoping he’s going to find his scoring touch come the playoffs — if he’s in the lineup.

That’s why it’s all well and good that Ryder scored the game-winning goal in today’s division-title-clinching 3-2 victory at TD Garden with a penalty shot with just 7:29 left against Atlanta.

But it might be too early for Ryder to hit his stride and be a postseason contributor.

“I was just excited to get the goal. I was tired on the penalty shot, so I didn’t know what I was going to do,” said Ryder who flaunted his one “move” on the shot — a wrister high to the glove side. “Like I said, that was a big win for us. I knew if we got the lead and I scored there, it would get the team going and hopefully we could pull out the win.”

A healthy scratch three times last month, Ryder has had a difficult time finding any semblance of an NHL-caliber game, never mind his ability to light the lamp.Daniel Paille’s ability to better complement the fourth line and Tyler Seguin’s emergence as an offensive threat finally pushed head coach Claude Julien to make the hard decision to sit his $4 million man. And when he has inserted Ryder, the winger has mostly been relegated to a fourth-line role, which doesn’t really suit his style.

Even against Atlanta, Ryder looked like a lost soul for most of the game. Sure the early tripping penalty against him was a bum rap, but when he wasn’t in the penalty box he was mostly floating around and treating the puck like a hand grenade. Whether Ryder made a solid defensive play to steal the puck and set up his penalty shot, or he just got a lucky bounce, is debatable. That doesn’t take anything away from his ability to finally snap his goal-scoring drought at 12 games and do it with the same move he missed with (by about a mile) in the shootout loss Thursday night.

If scoring droughts were inappropriate jokes, Ryder would be Gilbert Gottfried. Sometimes, however, he can get a roll, too. He showed that in the playoffs with five goals in 11 games in ’09. And after a dreadful 18-goal regular season in 2009-10, he potted four goals in 13 contests last spring. That’s why he’ll remain a contender for a postseason lineup spot even if he’s spent more time in Julien’s dog house than on the ice the last several weeks.

The key is for Ryder to not peak too soon. While clinching the division today was a respectable milestone, the next four games are pretty much meaningless for the Bruins. Ryder would be wise not to waste any goals, or a hot streak, on games that will only determine a little playoff positioning change.

Ryder, a potential unrestricted free agent, has a chance to cancel out his mostly disappointing three-year stay in Boston with a postseason to remember. He just has to time his potential hot streak so that it doesn’t begin in this week’s quartet of glorified exhibition games.

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