BOSTON -- There is a lost month in the game log of Bobby Ryan, a lost month in what some -- maybe even Ryan himself -- might say was a lost season. From Feb. 18 to March 14, he played no NHL games, a hand injury interrupting a season that was disappointing to him, to the Ottawa Senators, to everyone.
"When you're doing that, sometimes that gives you an opportunity to kind of recharge the batteries," Ryan said of being out of the lineup. "I did a lot of bag skating and a lot of laps, all that kind of stuff. It's almost like it was a blessing. I found my legs."
Things didn't turn immediately. He wasn't a new player, or his old self. But he felt progress. He felt better.
By the time the regular season finished, Ryan had 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists), his lowest total since he played 23 games as a rookie for the Anaheim Ducks in 2007-08, and certainly not the output the Senators were expecting in a season in which they were paying him $7.25 million.
Since the Stanley Cup Playoffs started -- and, coach Guy Boucher would argue, the weeks before that -- Ryan has been rejuvenated, has been himself. He has been what the (at times) offensively lacking Senators have needed, a goal scorer in the big moments, none bigger than at 5:43 of overtime in Game 3 against the Boston Bruins, a power-play goal that gave the Senators a 4-3 win and a 2-1 lead in the Eastern Conference First Round.
He had seen an opening for himself, seen a chance to make good, to erase what had happened. That's not always an easy barrier to jump, whether physically or mentally. But it's a jump that Ryan has, in the first three games of the series, been able to make.
"This was an opportunity to, I guess, redeem myself for what I thought -- everybody thought -- was a bad year," Ryan said. "You get a fresh start in Game 1 and I've tried to capitalize. So far, so good. It's very early, in hopefully what will be a long process."
But it didn't have to happen that way. He could have retreated into himself, given up, allowed the bad to take over and erase the time left to him and his team.
"I think when the playoffs start -- and I've seen this quite a few times - when the playoffs turn, it's a new opportunity for a lot of our players," Boucher said. "I knew that Bobby was playing well and we made sure that he knew that. And when he scored that goal in the last game of the season [against the New York Islanders on April 9], there was a lot of weight off his shoulders. Since then it's just been a free mind.
"You always say that you make your money during the season, but you make your reputation in the playoffs and right now he's showing everybody that he's a gamer. He's been resilient just like the team has been and right now everybody is benefitting from it."
When he was asked if he was playing his best all season, Ryan had to laugh. Ruefully.
"Well, it wasn't hard to go up, was it? So yeah," Ryan said.
The goal that boosted him on Monday came after a penalty call on Bruins forward Riley Nash, a call that even Ryan said he didn't expect to go his way. After Nash got tangled up with Viktor Stalberg, Ryan popped Nash in the face with his elbow. Nash retaliated, and got called for roughing.
"Really, I thought the exchange was just going to be nothing, no call either way," Ryan said. "But we got on the fortunate end of one tonight. That can change very quickly. We'll take it. We got a little bit of a break, bailed ourselves out."
He did that, as he tried to get about 18 inches of loft on the puck, specifically to beat the strengths of Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask off the feed from Kyle Turris, scoring the game-winner in the process.
And with that bailout of the Senators, who had given up a three-goal lead in a madcap second period, Ryan continued the bailout of his own season, which had started with a goal in Game 1, even though that came in a game that Ottawa lost, 2-1.
Suddenly, all seemed forgiven. Or at least most. Or some.
He was working his way back into the good graces of a fanbase that had gotten down on him this season, that had certainly expressed its disappointment. And Ryan had felt the pressure of that, had known the number of zeroes in his paycheck and what that represented to those who shared the ice with him and those who watched what he did there.
So does this run, so far, mitigate that? Does it wash away some of that pressure, that disappointment?
"I don't know if it does completely or entirely," Ryan said. "But personally, it certainly does. I felt like this was an opportunity to put that season behind me, the 82 games. People are going to say what they're going to say and be on me for it for a long time.
"That's what happens when you're paid what you're paid and you're expected to do things. But I've got a chance to make my money in playoffs. I'm going to try and do everything I can for us now."
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