Toronto Maple Leafs forward James van Riemsdyk knows taking small steps can lead to big results.
That's the message he's conveying to the Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild, who are each facing 3-0 deficits in the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Canadiens will attempt to avoid elimination at the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 4 on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports), followed by the Wild attempting to extend their Western Conference Second Round series against the Chicago Blackhawks (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports).
It was in 2010 during van Riemsdyk's first postseason appearance when his Philadelphia Flyers trailed the Boston Bruins 3-0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Though the outside world declared the Flyers finished before the Bruins won the requisite four games, van Riemsdyk and his teammates had other ideas.
The Flyers, who finished seventh in the Eastern Conference in 2009-10, rallied to force a Game 7 in Boston, where they trailed 3-0 in the first period before van Riemsdyk scored his first NHL playoff goal. It was the first of four unanswered goals for the Flyers en route to becoming the first team since the New York Islanders in 1975 to rally from a 3-0 series deficit.
James van Riemsdyk scored his first NHL playoff goal in 2010 when the Philadelphia Flyers became the third team in league history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit. (Photo: Brian Babineau/NHLI)
"Once you get that first one maybe you start to get some confidence going," van Riemsdyk said. "In Game 5 we went back into their building and were able to win another one. Then the pressure, the dynamic of the series shifts a little bit to where they're starting to feel a little bit of pressure. We continued to take it one period, one game at a time. It sounds cliché but it was just the approach that we needed to be successful."
Like the Canadiens, the New York Rangers are also on the brink of elimination, trailing the Washington Capitals in their best-of-7 series 3-1 with Game 5 on Friday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). Van Riemsdyk, a Rangers fan growing up in Middletown Township, N.J., believes they can start a rally of their own.
"They're obviously an experienced team that made a great run last year all the way to the Finals," van Riemsdyk said. "It's not the position they probably want to be in right now, but I'm sure they can draw on some past experiences to help them play a great game in Game 5. That will be a fun game to watch."
From van Riemsdyk's point of view, the Stanley Cup Playoffs have been a lot of fun. Although he finds it tough missing the postseason party the past two years after competing in the playoffs his first four NHL seasons, he's enjoyed watching different players make a name for themselves each night.
"That's the cool part to see too, what guys elevate their game in the playoffs," van Riemsdyk said. "It's always fun to see guys raise their game and be the hero on any given night."
One has been Lightning forward Tyler Johnson, who played with van Riemsdyk during the 2009 IIHF World Junior Championship in Ottawa. Johnson leads all players with eight postseason goals, including the winner with 1.1 seconds left in regulation in Game 3.
"He's been unbelievable," van Riemsdyk said. "The thing that sticks out about his game the most is just how smart he is out there. You always see him in a good spot. He makes good decisions with the puck and is responsible defensively. Those smarts that he has I think puts him on another level."
In order for van Riemsdyk and the Maple Leafs to reach the next level after going 30-44-8 to finish 27th in the League, there's little time for rest this summer. After a 19-9-3 start, the Maple Leafs finished 11-35-5. They fired coach Randy Carlyle in January, and interim coach Peter Horachek and general manager Dave Nonis after the season. After announcing the firings of Horachek and Nonis, and more than 20 members of the scouting staff, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan said the housecleaning was only beginning.
"When a team doesn't have success and they fail in consecutive years the way we failed as a team, you have to expect that there's going to be some type of changes," van Riemsdyk said. "As far as what's going to be done, that's out of my pay grade. We'll let those guys make those decisions."
No matter what happens, van Riemsdyk wants to remain in Toronto for the long haul.
"I love playing in Toronto," van Riemsdyk said. "That brief taste of the playoffs we had two years ago, it goes to show how special it would be, being able to make a run in the playoffs in that city. Obviously everyone's goal is to win the Stanley Cup and you realize how special that would be, so it would mean more there than probably anywhere else, you can argue."