Bobby Ryan returns to form for Senators in playoffs
Forward scores overtime goal in Game 1 win against Penguins in Eastern Conference Finalby Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer
PITTSBURGH -- It had taken Bobby Ryan longer than planned to figure out a way forward, a way through the new system that Ottawa Senators coach Guy Boucher had installed and which Ryan did not exactly cotton to immediately. It had taken all season, in fact. Until "Game 82," as Ryan said.
But if that is correct -- or some version of that is correct -- then it has set him up perfectly for the heroics of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, for his five goals and six assists, including one of each in a 2-1 overtime win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final at PPG Paints Arena on Saturday.
It has set up him for, as he has said more than once, redemption.
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"It took me longer than most and I had a tough year with the learning curve," said Ryan, who set up Jean-Gabriel Pageau's goal at 14:32 of the first period and scored the game-winning goal at 4:59. "There were some growing pains for me with it. That's evident. I think everybody's well aware of that.
"I bought in like everybody else on the team and stuck with it. I'm finally, I guess, getting the reward for it by being here. I said before I would trade all the offense in the world to be in the Eastern Conference Final. Pretty happy about it."
And while he might have had to trade all that offense in the regular season, when he scored 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists), the lowest point total since his 23-game rookie season in 2007-08, he has not had to do the same in the playoffs.
There, Ryan is second on the Senators in points, behind defenseman Erik Karlsson, who has 13, and second in goals, behind Pageau, who has eight.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Ryan roofs game-winning goal in OT
"The last game of the year he finally got that goal [against the New York Islanders] and, at the same time, we're starting the playoffs," Boucher said. "Once you get a refresher, some sort of schism or stoppage of some kind, and you get another chance to start back at zero or whatever, your mind is just a little freer.
"That's all it was because he understood everything since the beginning."
Even if he hadn't felt much like it.
But everything has been different in the playoffs, in his confidence, in his finish, in his ability to find the right player at the right time, and mostly, that has been Pageau.
For two periods the Pageau goal stood up, looking like it might be the game-winner in a shutout for the Senators. It was a replica of an earlier goal, scored in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the New York Rangers, in which Ryan flung a no-look pass from behind the net at Pageau, who beat Henrik Lundqvist.
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Ryan discusses the Sens' Game 1 win
He did that again on Saturday, finding Pageau with the sweet backhand no-look pass from behind the net, this time setting up Pageau to beat Marc-Andre Fleury.
"I think that's a play that, if it doesn't work, you're going to hear about it from the coaches," Ryan said.
Still, he made it. Still, it worked.
And now Pageau is almost expecting that pass, that ridiculous, shouldn't-work, seemingly-impossible pass from Ryan. He's anticipating it, so much so that, as Pageau said, "on this one he was almost on the other side of the net. I was wondering if it was coming."
But he knew it had happened against the Rangers, knew what Ryan was capable of, especially now, with his confidence soaring and his game ticking upward and his newfound understanding of a system and a game plan and his place in that.
"I think he's been working all year, but obviously it started paying off for him," Pageau said. "He's a key player for us. I think he's paying a lot of attention to all the little details. You see him stopping on pucks, finishing his checks, bumping on draws, blocking shots. You need that from your key players.
"I'm happy for him right now that he's helping the team."
Video: OTT@PIT, Gm1: Boucher talks about the Sens' OT win
Not just helping, but winning games. The winner came after a goal by Evgeni Malkin tied the score at 14:25 of the third period. Pageau and Mark Stone combined to win a battle along the boards and Pageau chipped it out to where Ryan was streaking ahead of Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta. Ryan won the race for the puck and backhanded it past Fleury.
Ryan, at this point, has figured it out. He has figured out the system and the strategy and what he needs to do to be successful. He has five goals in 13 playoff games after scoring 13 goals in 62 regular-season games. He has become the offensive force that he had been, and was supposed to be.
"It's a refresh, I think, for me," Ryan said. "I think it was a complete restart. … I just knew at some point those pucks that I had been chasing all year long in front of the net, they were going to come and they did in the first series [against the Boston Bruins].
"I think that you just want to redeem yourself, right? You let yourself down. You let your teammates down and everybody around you. Now I'm getting to redeem myself a little bit. That's all I'm trying to do."