THE MOST important goal of James van Riemsdyk's professional life came at 17:12 of the first period of Game 7 last year against the Boston Bruins. His first playoff goal, it will always be remembered as the ignition switch for a Flyers comeback - down by 3-0 in games, down by 3-0 in Game 7 - that belongs now to history.

It is a privilege to be involved in a forever kind of memory at such a young age - but it doesn't change the process. Win that game or lose it, score that goal or not score it, and van Riemsdyk's task this season was the same: to go about the business of trying to develop into an elite NHL player.

He is not there yet. He also is not 22 yet. But the growth is obvious. The good games come now with regularity. When you notice him skating - he has a nice combination of speed and power when he gets moving - you see flashes of why the Flyers drafted him with the second overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft.

Last night, van Riemsdyk took another step. He was the best Flyers player in a 1-0 loss to the Buffalo Sabres in Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series. It was not by default, either - the Flyers had plenty of players play well; they just didn't finish against Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller.

Another step, then. It is one of the things they will talk about once the sting of the defeat ebbs. Coach Peter Laviolette put van Riemsdyk on a line with Claude Giroux and Jeff Carter and they combined for 12 of the Flyers' 35 shots on goal. Van Riemsdyk had six of them and also hit a post in the first period - all in a game that should have ended the notion that the Flyers' late-season funk would continue into the playoffs.

It didn't. They just didn't finish. Now, not finishing is just as fatal as playing lousy, but it is a lot more palatable - especially when a team is going about the business of regrouping for Game 2.

"I think you could feel it at the morning skate, that guys were that much more focused and that much more ready to go," van Riemsdyk said. "We'll have to get ready to go off the hop again on Saturday.