Thursday, May 9, 2019

O'Reilly ready to make next push in pursuit of Stanley Cup

Blues center finding lessons in journey to finish line as tough as they seem to 
be, trying to find proper balance between shutting top players down and offense

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The question has been asked and with guarded reason, considering Ryan O'Reilly was the leading points producer for the Blues in the regular season an .

But when fans that observe astutely and openly wonder if there's something wrong with one of the heart-and-soul players for the Blues in this, his first season in St. Louis during these Stanley Cup Playoffs, might as well go straight to the source and see how he feels about the pursuit.

And although there's a level of gamesmanship that can go there with not disclosing anything during the playoffs, whether it be to the media or even to teammates or coaches, O'Reilly was firm and definitive in his answer that Blues fans want to hear as he and his teammates prepare for the Western Conference Final Saturday against the San Jose Sharks.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues center Ryan O'Reilly (right) moves the puck away from Stars center
Radek Faksa during action in Game 7 on Tuesday at Enterprise Center.
But after getting a day of rest on Wednesday and a light skate on Thursday, O'Reilly said he's ready for the next chapter.

"I feel great," O'Reilly said. "Never being this far and half way there, it's exciting. I feel I've got the jump and it's one of those things you do have to take day by day. I think when I woke up the other day after Game 7, it was tough, it was tough moving, but you get the day off and recover and coming in here, I feel I've got great life and energy. I felt great on the ice. It's amazing how competing for the Cup can bring that spark and life into the body."

This is the deepest run O'Reilly has made in the playoffs in his 10-year career and only second go in the postseason. It's no secret that he's logging a ton of minutes and drawing assignments against the opposition's top players, which will get taxing, especially at the toughest, biggest grind of the season.

O'Reilly, after logging 28:08 in Game 7's 2-1 double-overtime win over Dallas to win the second round, it marked the eighth game in a row O'Reilly has played 20 or more minutes, 12th time in 13 playoff games and 13th time in 14 games dating to the final regular season game.

Most importantly, it was the 62nd time in 95 games between regular season and playoffs O'Reilly, who is averaging 22:20 in the playoffs, has logged 20 or more minutes in a game, so it's most certainly understandable if there is wear and tear, or even some ailment that he's been able to play through.

O'Reilly has drawn assignments against top players such as Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine of Winnipeg, and Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov of Dallas, being asked to shut them down and to try and provide offense at the other end.

"Yeah, I think the last couple games, I found my offense a bit more, I was creating a bit more," said O'Reilly, who finished the series against the Stars with five assists but no goals. "The first couple (games), I was struggling to find offense and still not getting as many shots or good chances, but obviously we won the series and we're in this position where I think I can elevate my game even more and find a way to put the puck in the net for sure."

O'Reilly, who has nine points (two goals, seven assists) in 13 playoff games and had five assists in the series against the Stars, will undoubtedly draw assignments against the likes of Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski, Evander Kane and some of the other high-end skill players the Sharks possess, and much like he's done against the aforementioned players, O'Reilly will look forward to defense first, and supplying offense to make a good balance.

In the head-to-head matchups, O'Reilly held Scheifele to no points and a minus-3 rating in Games 5 and 6 after the series was tied 2-2, and in Games 6 and 7 against Seguin, he had one goal (on the power play) and was a minus-1.

"Yeah, a staple in my game is being kind of good defensively," O'Reilly said. "I think I take pride in that. They have a lot of depth up front on their team and it's going to be tough, but it's going to be a good challenge. I want to make sure I make it as hard as possible and want to frustrate guys. At the same time, I want to be an offensive threat and make it difficult for them."

When the Blues traded for O'Reilly on July 1, 2018, one of his first comments to GM Doug Armstrong was "Let's go win a Cup." But being just half way through this journey, O'Reilly and the rest of the Blues are finding out that this process is tougher than it seems, but the adrenaline rush is well worth it.

"It's very ... it's a massive lesson," O'Reilly said. "Every game we've won, every series that's won, you see how tough it is to do it for all of us as a group, how hard we have to work and how everyone has to make these little adjustments and come together and stay positive and work with each other. It's extremely difficult to get to this point and it's not going to get any easier. It's amazing to see and I'm excited for it. It's a really tough challenge that I think we have the group that can do it and we have to do it."

* NOTES -- The Blues held a heavily-populated optional skate at the Ice Zone inside St. Louis Outlet Mall Thursday before departing for San Jose, where they'll practice on Friday.

All the regulars took part, including four black aces (Ville Husso, Chris Thorburn, Jordan Nolan and Mitch Reinke), and the only regulars that didn't take part were Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Colton Parayko, Carl Gunnarsson, Tyler Bozak and Robert Thomas.

Berube said everyone took the extra day to rest, except for Gunnarsson, who could be questionable to open the series with what Berube said was a lower-body injury. 

"We'll see how he is tomorrow," Berube said of Gunnarsson. "It's an optional skate. So if (the others) decide not to go out, they would do something else.

"I think they like to go out in those optionals. It's not structured so much. They can kind of do their own thing a little bit and just get moving around. We don't want guys doing nothing today. It's important to do something. So we make it optional and they decide if they want to go out or if they want to do something in the gym."

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