Friday, May 14, 2021

"We're going to have some fun and we're going to beat them."

Ryan O'Reilly took the first shot in the upcoming Blues-Avalanche 
playoff series; it's why he's the leader of this team, it's why he wears the 'C' 

ST. LOUIS -- If anyone still questions why Ryan O'Reilly wears that 'C' on his left crest above the Bluenote so proudly today, put the brakes on those feelings immediately.

Like, please, do yourself a favor.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly (left) gave Nathan MacKinnon and the
Colorado Avalanche bulletin board material on Thursday by proclaiming
the Blues "are going to beat" the Avalanche in the playoffs. 

Because even before they could wipe the sheared ice shavings off their blades, No. 90 already had the words roll off his bearded face, bulletin board fodder for the Avalanche, fresh off whipping the Los Angeles Kings to claim the Presidents' Trophy for the 2020-21 season, to tape, paste, pin, whatever they want to do, inside the Avalanche's locker room in the bowels of some place called Ball Arena.

O'Reilly paid homage to the Avalanche, and rightfully so, but in the end, offered, "... We're going to have some fun and we're going to beat them."

Welcome to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Welcome to the Blues, who finished 27-20-9, including 8-1-3 over their final 12 games, against the Avalanche (39-13-4), who won their final five games and passed the Vegas Golden Knights to overtake them for the top spot in the league.

But why even bother with any of this. The series is already over, according to, which gives the Blues a 15 percent chance of winning this first round series:

What's the point of the Blues even showing up?

Because their captain says so, that's why.

This is the same guy who played an integral part in bringing this city its first Stanley Cup in 2019, the same guy that literally willed his team to a win against the Avalanche on April 24 when the Blues flopped out of the gates and were down 2-0 just three minutes into the game. 

On that day, O'Reilly wanted to have some fun and beat the Avalanche, and he willed them that day to a 5-3 win with a four-point game, including his second NHL hat trick all the while smothering one of the top players in the game (Nathan MacKinnon) in even-strength play. 

So why not stir the pot before the pleasantries start seesawing back and forth, before the names of the opponents are even dry enough to read in a matchup box?

But make no mistake, O'Reilly wasn't being cocky, he wasn't being smug. There's a difference between being cocky and confident. 

This is a confident hockey player, and why wouldn't he be after the Blues ended the regular season Thursday at Enterprise Center by spotting the Minnesota Wild three first-period goals before pasting them for seven in a row in a 7-3 thumping to give them three straight wins to end the season?

"We know we can beat this team and do some damage here. We're very excited," O'Reilly said. "... When we're skating and we're physical, I think we give them a lot of issues. Whether that's forecheck or defending. When we play our heavy game and commit to it and put pucks in and don't feed their rush, we make it tough on them and find ways to beat them. That's what we've got to do. That's got to be our focus. We know that they have a lot of talent over there. They work hard, but for us, it's an exciting challenge."

Colorado won five of the eight matchups against the Blues this season and are rightfully the favorites. Heck, the Avalanche have been listening to the pundits from the outset of the season that they're one of the prohibitive favorites to win the Stanley Cup.

They've earned that right. 

But remember the Blues two years ago? Underdogs against the Winnipeg Jets. Underdogs against the San Jose Sharks, and certainly underdogs against the Boston Bruins in the Final.

How did that turn out?

So as they approach Game 1 on Monday at 9 p.m. inside the house that Missouri villain Stan Kroenke has one of his many getaways in high atop Ball Arena, the Blues will once again be viewed as prohibitive underdogs.

And they're OK with that.

"At the end of the day, we knew we had the team on paper to put this thing together and get into the playoffs and that's what we did," said Blues forward Brayden Schenn after scoring twice Thursday. "We're playing, what it looks like, a good, solid Colorado team and we're ready for the challenge obviously. We're coming in as underdogs and we like that.

"In that locker room, I don't think anyone around the league looks at us as the most high-end, dominant, flashy players, but from a perspective of that, we don't maybe get a lot of attention like that, but I think we've built us a solid team, guys that really buy in and work for one another. We're going to enjoy the challenge here of playing against the best team in the league this year and it's going to be a fun series."

Colorado has MacKinnon, arguably one of the best, if not the best player in the game who finished with 65 points (20 goals, 45 assists) in just 48 games. And he's not even the top scorer and point-getter on that team. Mikko Rantanen led the Avs in goals (30) and points (66) this season, doing it in four more games (52) than MacKinnon. 

How about their captain, Gabriel Landeskog, a friend of O'Reilly's, who was nearly a point-per-game player (52 points; 20 goals, 32 assists) in 54 games, and defenseman Cale Makar and his point-per-game season in 44 games with 44 points (eight goals, 36 assists)?

This is a loaded lineup, and the Blues will no doubt have their work cut out.

Doesn't mean they can't be confident.

"We're confident, we're happy that whoever we're going to get and if it's Colorado like you mentioned, we're going to go there," said Blues forward David Perron, who had two goals and an assist Thursday to become the first Blue since Pavol Demitra in 2002-03 with 93 points in 78 games to be a point-per-game player with 59 points (19 goals, 39 assists) in 56 games. "We played them well at times this year and the other times they put it in the back of our net quite easily if we don't do the right things. It's a lot similar to the game tonight that there's going to be a lot more intensity, a lot more details that are required for us to have success. 

"We know what kind of firepower they have over there and also being disciplined, like our power play has been coming around more and more as the year's gone on. But we also know how good they are on their side. And we'll have to be really sharp."
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Torey Krug (right) and the Blues will have their hands full with Valeri
Nichushkin and the Colorado Avalanche in the first round.

And for O'Reilly, this will burn his fire even deeper since he will be facing the team that drafted him in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft and spent six seasons with the Avalanche before they banished him to Buffalo in 2015.

O'Reilly, who will see a lot of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog throughout this series, welcomes that challenge and welcomes the opportunity to dispatch his former mates.

"I think I played, what, six years there," O'Reilly said. "Definitely would be more special to beat them. There's no friends in playoffs. It's all business, it's all war. These games throughout the season, these games have been so intense and so competitive. It's fun though. It's going to be an intense battle. I want to beat them bad."

Let the fun begin since O'Reilly is ready to skate through a brick wall for his teammates, who in turn should return the favor.

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