MONTREAL – Boston snipers Michael Ryder and Phil Kessel have come a very long way in a year’s time.
When Kessel’s Bruins met Ryder’s Montreal Canadiens in the first round of last year’s playoffs, both players sat out games as a healthy scratch.
Now teammates in Boston, the two scapegoats turned into heroes this year as Ryder and Kessel led the series with four goals apiece to help the Bruins sweep in the Canadiens and advance to the second round.
“Especially with the rivalry and that I played here, it was a lot of fun,” Ryder said the Bruins’ decisive 4-1 win Wednesday. “It’s definitely a good feeling to beat your old team here in Montreal and then get that last (goal). I actually kind of forgot about what happened last year, but to just beat your old team, I’m a Bruin now and it’s a lot of fun.”
Kessel rebounded from that experience last year almost immediately, scoring three times in the final three games. It was a performance that served as a preview of this season when Kessel led the Bruins with 36 goals and established himself as one of the league’s most dangerous players off the rush.
“It’s tough to say it’s good for him, but at the time it might have been the best thing,” said Kessel’s centre Marc Savard. “He came back and really picked up his game in the playoffs, and he’s done it again here. He’s one of the best shooters in the league and I’m glad he’s on our side.”
Ryder wasn’t offered a contract by the Canadiens last summer and signed a US$12-million, three-year pact with the Bruins. He found instant chemistry with breakout centre David Krejci and rode it to a 27-goal season, but he didn’t score once against the Canadiens until the playoffs.
He and Krejci were at their best in Game 4, scoring three of the Bruins four goals and combining for five points.
“Don’t think too much when you’re on the ice and just shoot the puck,” Ryder said to explain his turnaround this season. “When I don’t think out there things just seem to happen a lot better, and when you have confidence it’s a lot easier to play with it.”
Bruins head coach Claude Julien credited his team’s discipline in the face of constant provocation for allowing them to win the series so handily. The Bruins were 4-for-16 on the power play in the series while the Canadiens were 0-for-8.
The one player the Habs targeted in an effort to draw penalties was Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, and he never even looked tempted to get involved in any post-whistle activity.
“He was by far the most disciplined because he was the most challenged in that area,” Julien said. “When your leader leads by example like that, you have no choice but to follow. That was our number one key to the series, staying disciplined and not letting the emotions get the better of you.”