The St. Louis Blues are even in the Western Conference First Round against the Vancouver Canucks, and it’s due in no small part to reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O’Reilly.
The center made arguably the biggest difference in the Blues winning Games 3 and 4 on back-to-back nights after losing the first two games in the best-of-7 series.
“It’s everything,” linemate David Perron said. “He’s doing everything right on the ice.”
O’Reilly scored two goals and had an assist in a 3-1 win in Game 4 on Monday at Rogers Place in Edmonton, the hub city for the West. He has been part of the past five goals the Blues have scored, including an assist on Brayden Schenn‘s overtime goal in Game 3 on Sunday.
The high-end two-way player has done enough in the past two games to help the No. 4 seed Blues to two wins and a chance to take the series lead against the No. 5 seed Canucks in Game 5 on Wednesday (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, FS-MW).
O’Reilly’s success is a carryover from his performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, when he scored 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists), including nine (five goals, four assists) in the Stanley Cup Final, to help the Blues win their first championship. The 23 points were tied for the NHL lead with Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins.
“We really focus on a team-first mindset, and he leads that,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “We were not happy after losing the first two games. We’re a very competitive team, and he’s a very competitive player. We thought we played pretty good hockey, but they were better, a little bit better, and they beat us. We had to play better and we did. He’s provided real good leadership that way.”
O’Reilly’s success is built on his hockey sense. It was evident on his two goals in Game 4.
He won an offensive zone face-off in the left circle back to defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and immediately went to the left side of the net, knowing that a shot off the springy end boards on that side could carom to him. It did, and he scored at 16:43 of the first period.
In the second period, O’Reilly carried the puck down the left side, through the neutral zone. He looked up and saw Perron was with him, so he lightly dumped the puck into the near corner knowing Perron could skate to it and win a board battle.
Perron did against two defensemen, Troy Stecher and Alexander Edler, who were in the corner with him. He got the puck back to O’Reilly, who skated untouched into the slot and beat goalie Jacob Markstrom with a backhand over his glove at 6:52.
“I want to perform at the key times, and it was nice to get on the board,” O’Reilly said. “I haven’t been creating much offensively, so it was nice to put the puck in the back of the net. It’s just one game. I’ve got to be consistent and lead the way in that area.”
He’s being humble, Pietrangelo said, because O’Reilly and his linemates, Perron and Jaden Schwartz, have been the best line in the series during the past three games with how long and how often they’re playing with the puck in the offensive zone.
“If we had the magic formula, we’d already have done it,” Vancouver coach Travis Green said. “They are a good line. We have to try to find a way to make them defend more and play in our zone. That will go a long way.”
The line combined for 13 shots on goal and 23 shot attempts in Game 4 after combining for 17 shots on goal and 25 shot attempts in Game 3.
“They’ve been hounding and they’ve been really getting on top of Vancouver’s defense: stripping pucks, keeping the puck in the offensive zone, working, shooting, getting to the net,” Berube said. “[O’Reilly] is just all around the puck all the time in the offensive zone.”
Like he was on Pietrangelo’s 5-on-3 power-play goal that made it 3-1 at 15:47 of the second period.
O’Reilly won the offensive-zone face-off in the left circle and then followed his shot on goal from the right circle to get the rebound so he could move the puck back across the ice to Pietrangelo for a shot-pass that went into the net off Edler’s stick.
“You create chances, create turnovers, create opportunities, you’re going to score goals,” Pietrangelo said. “When I’m out there with the whole line, especially him, you know what the game is going to be. The best part about playing with these guys is if they do make a mistake or turn the puck over, which happens when you have high skill like they do, the goal is to get that thing back as fast as possible. That’s the definition of a two-way player.”
Last season, O’Reilly was voted the Selke Trophy winner as the best defensive forward in the NHL, won the Stanley Cup, and was voted the Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP. He’s a finalist for the Selke Trophy again this season.
“As much praise as he gets, and he deserves it, there’s a lot of little things I don’t think people realize he does that go a long way in a game,” Pietrangelo, the Blues captain, said. “That’s the definition of being a high-end player.”
NHL.com staff writer David Satriano contributed to this report