NHL·Preview

Bobby Ryan's play epitomizes how Senators making most of opportunity

Ottawa's Bobby Ryan had a career-low 25 points in 2016-17 while dealing with a broken finger and his mother's unexpected death during the off-season. But the playoffs provided a fresh start for Ryan, and he has taken the opportunity to become an impact post-season player at both ends of the ice.

Sub-par season behind Ottawa forward as team prepares for 1st conference final in 10 years

Ottawa's Bobby Ryan, celebrating a goal with Derick Brassard, is playing his best hockey of the season just when the Senators need it. (Charles Krupa/Associated Press)

This NHL season was shaping up to be one to forget for Ottawa Senators forward Bobby Ryan.

The 30-year-old had a career-low 25 points in 2016-17 while dealing with a broken finger and his mother's unexpected death during the off-season. But the playoffs provided a fresh start for Ryan, and has taken the opportunity to become an impact post-season player at both ends of the ice.

"I don't think my game's changed a ton, I've just been a guy at the net a little more and I've tried to be a little more defensively responsible and I think I had some growing pains with that through the year as well," Ryan said Friday, a day before the Senators started their Eastern Conference final in Pittsburgh. I just hope to contribute right now."

And he has contributed in a big way. Ryan was an offensive force to be reckoned with in Ottawa's opening series against Boston, paying the price in front of the net and scoring four goals and three assists, including the game winner in Games 3 and 4.

Ryan didn't find the score sheet as often In the second round against the New York Rangers — he had just two assists — but set up the series-winning goal in Game 6 and was blocking shots.

The playoff production comes partly from Ryan's ability to find the positive. The broken finger he suffered in February forced him to miss 11 games, but he used the time to work on his conditioning and when he returned March 14 he looked energized and refreshed.

After clinching its series against the Rangers Tuesday night the Senators had two days off. While most players took advantage of the rest, Ryan was back on the ice.

"His work ethic is off the chart right now," said teammate Derick Brassard. "We had two days off and he was skating with the black aces (extra players) and trying to get better. The block shots he had against New York say a lot about him. He's on board like anyone else on the team trying to make a difference to win and trying to advance."

Bobby Ryan (9) goes down to block a shot in the Senators' 4-2 series-clinching win in Game 6 against the New York Rangers. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Ryan is just one of many Ottawa players going to his first Conference final and while the focus remains on beating the heavily favoured Penguins, they're also trying to enjoy the moment.

"There's a part that you have to enjoy," said Ottawa coach Guy Boucher, who led Tampa Bay to the conference final in 2011. I'll be honest with you I've enjoyed this run even more than my first run because you realize you never know when it comes again and it's something very difficult to achieve now in today's day and age with the NHL parity and all that."

Boucher wants his players to enjoy the experience, but says it's important not to get lost in the excitement.

"If you get caught up in all that emotion about how good you've done you're not ready for what you need to do and tomorrow is just a game that we need to play."

For the first time this post-season the Senators will open a series on the road, but with a 4-2 record away from Canadian Tire Centre Ottawa is hopeful to steal a game at PPG Paints Arena.

"I think it's good for our team to kind of get away and try something different," said Brassard. "We've been starting both series at home and if we can surprise them the first game then we put a lot of pressure on their team. We just need to be ready to play tomorrow."

The Senators know they will have their hands full with Penguins stars Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

"On paper they're the better team, but we feel if we can contain a little bit of Crosby and Malkin and make their depth players really step to the forefront we might have a chance," said Ryan.

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