VOORHEES, N.J. – James van Riemsdyk was face down in front of the crease getting hacked, whacked, pushed and shoved by Martin Brodeur.
The goalie tried everything to stop JVR, and it still wasn’t enough.
Playing just his third game since returning from a broken foot, van Riemsdyk had a goal and was robbed of two more in the Philadelphia Flyers’ 4-3 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series Sunday.
The former second overall pick in the NHL draft was all over the ice, tormenting the Devils. Van Riemsdyk had two breakaway opportunities after New Jersey tied it at 3 in the third period, but Brodeur made huge saves.
So van Riemsdyk found another way to be a difference-maker. He used his big body to screen Brodeur on Danny Briere’s winning goal in overtime.
“We have to do a better job of boxing out in front of Marty,” Devils coach Peter DeBoer said Monday. “We also have to do a better job of limiting the time they spend in our end of the ice. We need to clear the puck out and keep the puck in the other end.”
Game 2 is Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound van Riemsdyk makes it difficult for a goalie to see the puck when he’s standing in front of the net blocking his vision. That’s why Brodeur worked him over when he had the chance. It didn’t stop van Riemsdyk from doing it again.
Van Riemsdyk is a resilient guy. He’s had to be. Injuries limited him to just 43 games in the regular season. But he’s back now, making the Flyers an even more dangerous team than the group that knocked off heavily favoured Pittsburgh in six games in the first round.
“I try to stay positive throughout all the bumps in the road,” van Riemsdyk said. “I got a great opportunity last night and I was able to take advantage of it. I hope to continue that.”
While Briere is known as Mr. Playoffs around here, van Riemsdyk is gaining a reputation for stepping up his performance when the games count the most. He had seven goals in 11 playoff games last year, and appears to be picking up where he left off now that he’s finally healthy.
“We all saw James play tremendous hockey last year. He was our best player in the playoffs,” Briere said. “The way he played yesterday was simply amazing. He changes everything up front. Now we have another player other teams have to worry about it.
“We already have enough offence. Add James to the mix and it’s a big addition. His play in the second and third period, the way he was skating around defencemen and the scoring chances he created on top of that was a huge part of the difference in us winning.”
Van Riemsdyk, who turns 23 on Friday, signed a six-year contract extension last summer after his breakout post-season. But he missed 39 games this season because of three separate injuries—groin, concussion, foot surgery. He had 11 goals and 13 assists in just over half a season.
Van Riemsdyk had missed 19 games before coming back for Games 5 and 6 in the first round against the Penguins. He only played a total of 14:16 in those two games, but benefited from a week off before Round 2.
“The layoff served him well because it gave him an opportunity to practice at a high level and get conditioned and battle for pucks and use his speed and that translated to the game,” coach Peter Laviolette said.
Laviolette put van Riemsdyk on Briere’s line for the opener against New Jersey. He rewarded the coach with an outstanding all-around performance.
“He is a beast,” teammate Claude Giroux said. “He looks like the James from last year in the playoffs. He is so strong and so fast. He has everything a player would want. He was unbelievable again.”
The veteran Briere has mentored several young players on the Flyers, even inviting a couple, including Giroux, to live with him. He’s equally impressed with van Riemsdyk’s demeanour as his skill level.
“He’s very laid-back, not too much seems to faze him and that becomes important when you go through tough times,” Briere said. “When things are going well, it doesn’t seem to get to his head, either.”
Van Riemsdyk grew up an avid New York Rangers fan as a youngster in North Jersey, meaning he was never much a fan of the Devils or Flyers, for that matter. He was drafted behind fellow American Patrick Kane, and made his NHL debut in 2009. That season, the Flyers lost to Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup finals.
With van Riemsdyk back, the Flyers’ chances of returning to the finals improved. First, they have to win this round.
The Devils have shown they can rally in a series, coming back from a 3-2 deficit against Florida with consecutive overtime wins to advance.
“Just losing the first game makes it a little more important,” Brodeur said. “We just have to play our game. We have to keep the game as simple as possible. We played right into their hands with their speed and physicality. We have to get the puck out of our zone as quick as possible. We have to try to minimize our mistakes.”