|Michael Ryder struck the Lightning with his first two-goal game of the season.
MONTREAL – The sight of a smiling Michael Ryder may not be a laughing matter for the rest of the NHL. If Ryder’s three-point outburst against the Lightning is any sign, 2008 could prove to be his year.
With the two-time 30-goal man’s stick going mysteriously silent to start the season, many – himself included - wondered if the days of Ryder lighting the lamp with ease were behind him. Following his two-goal night against Tampa Bay, the sniper from Newfoundland looked nothing like a guy ready to throw in the towel.
“It’s definitely a huge monkey off my back,” understated a relieved Ryder after notching only his fifth and sixth goals of the season. “It’s been a tough stretch for me that’s for sure. What made it worse, was seeing the team also struggle along with me and I couldn’t help the rest of the guys out of it the way I wanted to. But I knew I could bounce back. This feels pretty good right now and so does winning a game in front of our fans at home.”
A capacity Bell Centre crowd let Ryder know they were behind him by cranking it up a few notches when he scored his second goal of the game—unfathomably the winger’s first two tallies on home ice this season.
“I can’t tell you what it means to have the support of these great fans,” admitted Ryder. “Hearing them cheer like that when I got that second one was just awesome, especially since I haven’t exactly spoiled them this season.”
Ryder’s breakthrough was just as soothing to head coach Guy Carbonneau, who couldn’t be happier to see his slumping sniper begin to rediscover his scoring touch.
“When we kept him out the lineup for a few games, we told him what he needed to do,” said Carbonneau. “We kept on him that he had to work harder and shot more and that’s exactly what he’s doing. There aren’t many players on this team that can score goals the way Mike can, from the top of the face-off circle just like he has for the past two years for us.”
There for Ryder every step of the way this season has been Christopher Higgins. After setting the table for each of his buddy’s goals against the Lightning, Higgins has now assisted on all three of Ryder’s goals over the past three games.
“I think he’s been playing well since we left for our road trip and he’s a lot more fun to play with when he's confident and flying the way he was tonight,” said Higgins. “He’s one of my closest friends on the team and my roommate on the road. It wasn’t easy to see him go through all he has this season.”
Ryder looked like his old sharpshooting self, especially on his first goal when he wired a wrist shot past Karri Ramo that could have easily gone through the Finnish goalie had it not hit the top corner instead.
“We see those kinds of shots from Rydes everyday at practice so he never surprises me with what he can do with the puck,” added Higgins. “He’s got one of the best shots I’ve ever seen and when he’s rifling it like he did tonight, good things are going to happen.”Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com