After an injury-plagued 2011-12 season, that player finally made his reappearance.
Van Riemsdyk had a goal, was a plus-3, took a team-high five shots on net and set the screen on Danny Briere's overtime goal that allowed the Philadelphia Flyers to take a 1-0 series lead against the New Jersey Devils with a 4-3 victory Sunday in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal series.
After his dominant turn in last year's playoffs, van Riemsdyk signed a six-year contract extension in August. However, he missed time early in the season with a lower-body injury, and then missed a month with a concussion suffered Jan. 12. He returned to play six games when he broke his foot blocking a shot March 1. Subsequent surgery kept him out for seven weeks, until Game 5 of the Flyers' first-round series against the Penguins.
Even when he was healthy, however, van Riemsdyk couldn't conjure up last season's success, as he had just 11 goals and 13 assists in 43 games, and saw his name come up in trade rumors.
"It is one of those things that happens," van Riemsdyk said. "Those injuries are a part of the game; trade rumors are a part of the game. I am lucky that I have a good support system that only lets me worry about what I have to do out there on the ice and they block me out from the rest. I am definitely thankful for that and I just go out there and play hockey."
Van Riemsdyk played limited minutes in the two games he played against the Penguins, but that was by design. No player might have benefitted more from the Flyers' week off between the end of the first round and the start of the second.
"I thought getting James back was a real positive for us," Flyers coach Peter Laviolette said. "But he hadn't had at that point a whole lot of competition. … The week really provided an opportunity to push him with his conditioning and his pace and his on-ice play."
The result was a performance that was reminiscent of his star turn last year.
"The way he skated, the way he was so strong … that was great to see," Briere said. "It's a guy that we didn't see in the first round, he only played a little bit the last two games trying to get his game. But he had the whole week to get his legs and his wind. The way he played last year in the playoffs, if he keeps playing the same way that's another huge asset up front for us. What a game he had."
The Flyers continue to lead the League in playoff scoring just under five goals per game, but having another player with van Riemsdyk's offensive gifts is something the team believes it will need in order to reach its ultimate goal.
"We need plays like that," defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. "When he skates really hard, especially when he gets the puck … when he's full speed, he's one of the better skaters in the League when he gets the puck at full speed. As a [defenseman], when you see that happening, it's really hard to play one-on-one against him. We're going to need more from him. That’s the way he has to play. I can't wait to see him more."