MONTREAL – It’s ironic that no Bruins’ player has become more synonymous with the team’s failures over the last few seasons than Michael Ryder, yet no player has exceeded his regular-season performances with playoff brilliance more than Ryder.
He did it again tonight with two goals, including the game-winner in overtime, as the Bruins evened their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with Montreal by downing the Canadiens, 5-4, at the Bell Centre.
Including the first three games of this series, Ryder had scored once – on a penalty shot against Atlanta – in his last 20 games. But with the Bruins he now has 21 points (10 goals) in 27 postseason games.
Ryder’ underwhelming regular seasons, which have featured him scoring just 18 goals in each of the last two, have earned him a host of derogatory nicknames, including my personal favorites “Glyder” and “Coach’s Son.” After all, head coach Claude Julien has mentored Ryder at every level of hockey since junior, and has stuck with the somewhat aloof winger through thick and thin.
That father-son-like relationship on the ice was severely tested last month, when Ryder was a healthy scratch twice. The benching ended his consecutive games played streak and seemed like a sure sign Ryder might not be in the lineup mix come playoff time. Through the first two games of this series, he’d registered just two shots on goal. He didn’t fare much better when the scene shifted to Montreal, as he recorded just one more shot on net in Boston’s first win.
The howls for a lineup shakeup, especially with rookie Tyler Seguin waiting in the wings, have come from several corners of the hockey world.
“I don’t think there were any intentions because we didn’t make any [changes]. I don’t think Michael Ryder’s been a bad player for us in the playoffs,” said head coach Claude Julien after the Game 4 win. “I know he scored tonight and he is the hero. But I don’t think he was a player that you wanted to point the finger at. We just needed to be better as a team. That’s what we believed in and that’s why we stuck with the same lineup.”
Ryder and his linemates Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly combined for eight points on the night after combining for just two in the first three games combined. While Ryder admitted there was a small weight off his shoulders after his first goal, he mostly spoke about his line as if they were all one being. Kelly responded to questions similarly.
That doesn’t mean that the focus should shift away from Ryder. Kelly and Peverley haven’t been Bruins long enough to create a cult of haters the way Ryder has. He’s been traded, bought out, sent to the Providence (AHL) farm club and ticketed for parts unknown too many times to count by his critics, including this blog.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still ridiculous that Ryder openly admits he doesn’t get his game into gear until the stakes are raised to playoff-high levels. At $4 million per season, he should be motivated to skate in Disney on Ice or to play roller hockey on the roof of a convenience store.
But if Ryder is like Julien’s son, he’s the one that always screws up until he finally comes through and does the right thing in the end. Whether he’s skating end to end set up Miro Satan’s game-winner last spring or putting the finishing touches on the Habs with a few goals like two years ago, Ryder has a knack for learning his lesson just in the nick of time.
He might’ve worked some magic again tonight, as a once hopeless-looking series is now all tied up at 2. We know that however long this playoff series and run lasts, Ryder will get plenty more opportunities from Julien to shine or let everyone down.
And when it’s playoff time, Ryder tends to make the most of those chances when you least expect it.