Philadelphia Flyers' winger James van Riemsdyk came back for the final two games of the Flyers' first round series victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but saw very limited ice time while working his way back from the broken foot that had kept him out of the lineup since the first day of March.
The second-overall selection in the 2007 entry draft failed to record a shot on goal in either contest as he saw 7:31 of action in 11 shifts in Game 5, then just 6:46 on seven shifts in last Sunday's series-clinching Game 6.
But with increased playing time, as well as being moved up to skate on a line with Danny Briere and Jakub Voracek by head coach Peter Laviolette this week, he had that dangerous look about him in Sunday's 4-3 overtime win over the New Jersey Devils. You know the one that was so prevelent in last year's brief Philly postseason stay, the appearance that any time he took possession of the puck on the wings, he was going to cut to the net and create some sort of quality scoring chance.
Van Riemsdyk played a big part in the triumph, as did the entire line. Briere scored twice, including the game-winner in overtime (which he actually scored twice after the first one was disallowed), and Voracek had two assists. Van Riemdsyk scored a second period goal -- his first tally since scoring two against the Chicago Blackhawks on January 5th -- and he also parked his massive frame right in front of Martin Brodeur on the overtime winner, screening the netminder so he couldn't see Briere's blast from the point.
Not only did he get results, but van Riemsdyk was also more involved in all aspects of the game. He registered a team-high five shots on goal during his 17:31 of ice time, and was tangled with Brodeur while disturbing the slot area.
Brodeur seemed to be clearly agitated at van Riemdsyk's constant presence, even drilling the winger a couple of times in the back of the head with cross-checks after he had been knocked to the ice at the side of the crease in the first period.
"We saw today when James is on his game he’s tough to stop," Briere said after the game, pointing out how it increases the threat of an already lethal Flyer offensive attack. "So it’s good to try and get him involved, and it gives us four even more dangerous lines now."
After signing a six-year contract extension last summer, van Riemsdyk entered this season with so much promise. Coming off his impressive seven goals in 11 games performance against the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins last spring, he instead got off to a slow start in the new campaign.
He posted just two goals and four points in his first nine games, then came the injuries. Van Riemsdyk missed one game with a lower-body injury in November, then four more games with an upper-body injury in December. Obviously struggling to get any kind of rhythm going each time he returned, he not only wasn't producing, but also wasn't getting the chances.
The 6' 3", 200-pound winger suffered a concussion in mid-January which knocked him out of 15 more games, and when he returned two weeks before the NHL trade deadline, van Riemsdyk's name was being bandied about in all kinds of trade scenarios.
The deadline passed and GM Paul Holmgren didn't pull the trigger on any transactions involving JvR, but the 22-year-old's luck didn't get much better. After turning the puck over in a game against the New York Islanders on March 1st, van Riemsdyk dove in front of a point shot in an attempt to cover for his mistake. The Milan Jurcina slapper drilled off van Riemsdyk's left skate, breaking his foot in the process.
Van Riemsdyk would get into just 43 games during the 2011-12 season, posting just 11 goals and 24 points.
All the while, he just concentrated on the only thing he could control in the situation.
"It's one of those things that happens," van Riemsdyk said after Sunday's win. "Those injuries are a part of the game. Trade rumors are a part of the game. I am lucky that I have a good support system that only lets me worry about what I have to do out there on the ice and they block me out from the rest. I am definitely thankful for that and I just go out there and play hockey."
Following the absence in Philadelphia's final 21 regular season games and first four in the playoffs, the layoff could prove to be a blessing in disguise for both van Riemsdyk and the Flyers. While his teammates have gone through the gruelling grind of the long season and extremely physical early-series portion of the first round victory over Pittsburgh, "Reemer's" fresh legs are providing a much-needed boost.
Playing on a Flyers' club that boasts five Stanley Cup winners (Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, Andreas Lilja, Ilya Bryzgalov, Pavel Kubina) in the lineup, there is no shortage of examples from which the youngster can pattern his game, especially when the games reach their pressure-packed best.
"I always love playing in those big games," van Riemsdyk said. "I have had a lot of good players to learn from. I remember my first year just talking to Danny Briere about what to expect in the playoffs and he went and put on a show, taking us to the Cup Final. I think I learned a lot from him and that helped me in the next go around."
For the budding power forward, things haven't come too easily this season. But as he points out, sometime things can change with just a little bit of momentum.
"I think when someone scores a goal, they get a little more confident," van Riemsdyk said of his goal on Sunday. "For me, I have been out so long and looking to find my way. Then that happens, you get a good bounce and you put it away. You kind of take off from there."
Laviolette and the rest of the Flyers are betting it eventually takes van Riemsdyk to the place he was last spring, on the verge of being a dominant NHL power forward. With how prolific the Flyers' offense has been thus far in the postseason -- scoring 34 goals in just seven playoff contests -- that has to be a scary thought for Brodeur and the rest of his Devils' teammates.