The death of his mother. Two injuries. Adjusting to coach Guy Boucher’s new system. Life took a toll on Bobby Ryan this season. His 13-goal, 25-point production in 2016-17 represented the worst production of his NHL career.
Asked how long it took him to get comfortable with how Boucher wanted the Senators to play, Ryan said: “Game 82.”
“It took me longer than most,” Ryan said. “And it was a tough year with the learning curve. There was growing pains for me with it. That was evident. But I bought in just like everyone else on the team, and stuck with it and I’m finally getting the reward for it.”
The reward Saturday was a forehand-to-backhand goal at 4:59 of overtime to give the Ottawa Senators a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opening game of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference final.
“Bobby had a tough year on a personal level,” Boucher said. “There’s nothing you can do about it. He had a lot of things to manage.”
Since the reset button was pushed for the start of the playoffs, Ryan has become the creative, dynamic offensive force the Senators need him to be.
That was his second overtime goal of these playoffs, and his third game-winner. The Cherry Hill, N.J., native has five goals and 11 points in 13 games. In addition to his overtime heroics, Ryan made a behind-the-back pass to Jean-Gabriel Pageau to set-up Ottawa’s other goal in the first period.
“I think that’s a play that, if it doesn’t work, you’re going to hear about it from the coaches,” Ryan said.
But everything is working for Ryan in the playoffs. If he takes a chance, it seems like it’s an acceptable risk. He seems as dangerous, if not more dangerous, than he was when he was a 30-goal regular-season scorer.
“He’s consistently been our best forward and he’s creating and been real strong on pucks,” said Senators center Kyle Turris. “Very competitive, battling hard, playing hard at both ends of the ice.”
Turris said Ryan has raised his game in the postseason. “We need everyone to elevate, chip in and reach a new level in the playoffs, and he’s the prime example of that,” Turris said.
Boucher also believes Ryan adjusted to the Senators’ new defensive-minded system better than he believes he did.
“I think that Bobby had some terrific stretches during the year,” Boucher said. “…Sometimes he’s just as good as now, just he wasn’t finishing and it gets to be a mental block. Then you start thinking you’re not doing the right things.”
Ryan missed 19 games with two separate injuries.
“For me, I thought the first time he came back from his first injury, he was amazing,” Boucher said. “He just wasn’t finishing. And then got injured again, then came back, and I thought the last 12 games of the year he was great. He was just as good as now. He was blocking shots. He was paying the price, a real good, solid, two-way guy.”
Today, Ryan might be the symbol of the Senators’ commitment to play the kind of relentless, hard-to-play-against style that has led to six overtime wins in this postseason.
“I’ve said that I would trade all of the offense in the world to be in the Western or Eastern Conference finals and I’m pretty happy about (being here),” Ryan said.
He views his offensive surge as penitence for his subpar regular season.
“I think you just want to redeem yourself, right?” he asks. “You let yourself down. You let your teammates down and everyone around you. Now I’m getting to redeem. That’s all I’m trying to do.”