BOSTON It was refreshing to hear that not even Claude Julien the veritable king of the Michael Ryder Fan Club can explain exactly what flicks the switch on and off for the streaky Bruins winger.
Julien has coached Ryder on four stops along his hockey career: in Quebec Major Junior League hockey with the Hull Olympiques, in the AHL with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and in the NHL with both the Canadiens and the Bruins. Ryder has played some of his best hockey under Julien, but, when asked how hes able to get the mostout of the veteran forward, the coach basically threw up his hands.
Well, obviously, I dont all the time, said a smirking Julien. I wish I could.
For now, though, the switch is as on as its been all season. Ryder scored twice, including the game-winner, in the Bruins' Game 4 overtime victory in Montreal, and in Game 5 he turned defensive and made a for-the-ages glove save on Tomas Plekanec with Tim Thomas far from his crease. Thomas authored his own show-stopping piece of goaltending thievery on Brian Gionta in the second overtime, but The Save by Ryder was truly something to behold.
In a strange sense, Ryders willingness to stand up and face a Plekanec shot head on and go right into glove-save mode -- rather than protect his face or body -- is more telling than an entire tape recorder full of 60-minute effort and put-the-biscuit-in-the-basket clichs.
I feel good out there. Confidence is back up and I think playing with Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly, we have chemistry together now, said Ryder. Were getting more used to each other. This is definitely the time of year where you want to play well and try to do anything you can to make your team win.
The save was the ultimate evidence that Ryder is fully committed, and it showed a focus that too often strays during the regular season.
Michael Ryder is one of those guys that when hes on his game, as you can see, hes a very good player," said Julien. "Saturday, when he made the save, he showed another side of him . . .
"I think hes really feeling good about his game right now. Hes certainly been a pretty good player for us in the last few games. And hes just one of those guys who, believe it or not, can be a difference-maker. Ive seen it in the past and I know that.
He was brought in here as a free agent in 2008-09 to be an addition to our hockey club . . . and he had that first year where he scored the types of goals we thought he would, or the amount he would (27 goals, compared to 18 each in both 2009-10 and 2010-11). Hes had challenges in the last couple of years. But this is a situation where you remember players for how they finish, not how they start. Mike is having a pretty good playoffs so far and hopefully he continues to do that.
The challenge now is to keep up the intensity and maintain that production. Its no coincidence Ryders scoring chances have increased as Kelly and Peverley have started dominating Montreal's struggling defensemen (Hal Gill and P.K. Subban in particular).
Its that production which rewarded Julien for showing faith in Ryder and Kelly while the team struggled to generate offense early in the series.
Thats the bottom line. At the end of the day you have to believe in the lineup that you have," said Julien. "If you feel its the best lineup, there's no need for a change . . . And, again, this is a process of not just one guy but a whole organization . . .
We talk and you have discussions and you share thoughts and at the end of the day you make a decision, and, yes, the final decision probably ends up on my shoulders. But we really felt our hockey club as a whole could play better.
Both Ryder and the hockey club have been playing better for the last three games, and now is the time for both of them to show some of the consistency thats eluded both player and team this season.