NHL Hockey

O'Reilly's luck turns and so do fortunes of the Blues

St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O'Reilly (90) celebrates his goal against the Winnipeg Jets with Brayden Schenn (10) during the third period of Game 2 of an NHL hockey first-round playoff series Friday, April 12, 2019, in Winnipeg, Manitoba. (John Woods/The Canadian Press via AP)

By JOE HARRIS

Associated Press

ST. LOUIS (AP) When the St. Louis Blues traded for Ryan O'Reilly in the offseason, they received an All-Star caliber player still seeking postseason success.

He fit right in with a franchise still seeking its first Stanley Cup after 52 years of existence.

While neither has found what they are looking for yet, they are both one step closer.

The Blues' win over the Winnipeg Jets in six games in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs was welcomed by the team's long-suffering fans, who watched their team climb into the postseason from the bottom of the standings in January.

It was also the first series win in three tries for O'Reilly, a 10-year veteran center now on his third team.

"It's an incredible relief and excitement," he said. "To where we were at the beginning of the year, to crawl our way and how hard guys have worked for each other and to get in, it's amazing. It just provides that excitement because that's the most important thing when you're training in the summer and you look at the beginning of the year you want to get in and compete for a Stanley Cup."

Success in April has been fleeting for O'Reilly, a 28-year-old Canadian. His teams failed to make the playoffs in four of his six seasons in Colorado and he was a spectator in all three seasons at Buffalo.

Colorado lost in six games to San Jose in 2009-10 as a No. 8 seed during O'Reilly's rookie season. After a three-year absence, O'Reilly and the Avalanche won the Central Division, only to be upset by Minnesota in seven games.

"Usually at this time, it's a frustrating time," O'Reilly said. "You're just trying to salvage a decent season personally. Now to have the meaning and this purpose, to prepare for the playoffs, going in there, trying to sort out our seed, playing meaningful hockey and getting ready for what we train for, it's what you dream of doing, which is competing for the Stanley Cup. It's what I've wanted, and unfortunately it's taken me a long time to get back in there, but I'm excited. I'm happy with this group, and to be part of it is special."

It didn't start that way.

O'Reilly's departure from Buffalo was rocky. Days after the team finished with the worst record in the NHL, he told reporters he had lost his love of the game.

The losing followed him to St. Louis as the team had a league-low 34 points on Jan. 2. Coach Mike Yeo was fired and was replaced by Craig Berube. It seemed like the O'Reilly curse was just another chapter to add to the heartbreak of Blues fans.

But the curse turned into luck as O'Reilly was the only player on the ice for all 82 regular-season games. He scored 28 goals and finished with 49 assists.

And the team came together after rookie goalie Jordan Binnington was called up. St. Louis won a franchise record 12 straight games and finished the season with 99 points.

O'Reilly continued his strong play into the playoffs, scoring a pivotal goal in the third period in Game 5 at Winnipeg to start a three-goal comeback that turned the series to the Blues' favor.

Suddenly, Blues fans have started to allow themselves to believe that the team can make their first run to the Stanley Cup Final since 1970.

"Obviously on the ice, his performance every night, since day one he has been a real good player for us," Berube said. "He goes against top line on other team. He scores, he plays on the penalty kill, the power play, so his leadership and his play on the ice has been outstanding and I think he's become a real good leader in the locker room."

O'Reilly's versatility sets him apart.

"He can play on the power play, he can play on the half wall, he can play the middle, he can play on the goal line," Blues forward Brayden Schenn said. "There's a lot of attributes that make him as good as he is. It's funny. He's not just a one dimensional player with a great shot, great speed and good vision. He has all of those things."

And now O'Reilly has a chance to showcase those skills on hockey's biggest stage. The Blues open the second round at home against the Dallas Stars on Thursday night.

"I don't think it just happened overnight," Berube said. "It took some time. I think they've always been a good group outside the rink, but we weren't and we didn't have the chemistry on the ice that we have right now. That had to come. And getting that chemistry and playing and working for each other has brought them tighter in the locker room."

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More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Updated April 24, 2019

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Teams Score Time
NCAA FB
NC State   Sat 12:00pm
Boston College  
Duke   Sat 3:30pm
Virginia  
North Carolina   Sat 3:30pm
Virginia Tech  
NHL
Carolina   10:30pm
San Jose  
Teams Score Time
Pittsburgh   Fri 7:00pm
Syracuse  
Ohio State   Fri 8:30pm
Northwestern  
Auburn   Sat 12:00pm
Arkansas  
Clemson   Sat 12:00pm
Louisville  
Florida   Sat 12:00pm
South Carolina  
Georgia Tech   Sat 12:00pm
Miami  
NC State   Sat 12:00pm
Boston College  
Purdue   Sat 12:00pm
Iowa  
West Virginia   Sat 12:00pm
Oklahoma  
Wisconsin   Sat 12:00pm
Illinois  
Duke   Sat 3:30pm
Virginia  
LSU   Sat 3:30pm
Mississippi State  
Minnesota   Sat 3:30pm
Rutgers  
North Carolina   Sat 3:30pm
Virginia Tech  
Oregon   Sat 3:30pm
Washington  
Temple   Sat 3:30pm
SMU  
Tulsa   Sat 3:30pm
Cincinnati  
UL Monroe   Sat 3:30pm
Appalachian State  
Baylor   Sat 4:00pm
Oklahoma State  
Missouri   Sat 4:00pm
Vanderbilt  
Arizona State   Sat 6:00pm
Utah  
Kentucky   Sat 6:00pm
Georgia  
Kansas   Sat 7:00pm
Texas  
Florida State   Sat 7:30pm
Wake Forest  
Michigan   Sat 7:30pm
Penn State  
Tennessee   Sat 9:00pm
Alabama  
Boise State   Sat 10:15pm
BYU  
Teams Score Time
American League
Houston   8:08pm
New York  
Teams Score Time
Detroit 56 01:18 2nd
Charlotte 54
Atlanta   8:00pm
New York  
Memphis   8:00pm
Oklahoma City  
San Antonio   8:00pm
Houston  
Portland   9:00pm
Utah  
Golden State   10:30pm
Los Angeles  
Teams Score Time
Kansas City   Thu 8:20pm
Denver  
Teams Score Time
Colorado 1 00:00 1st
Pittsburgh 1
Dallas 1 00:00 1st
Columbus 2
Toronto 2 00:00 1st
Washington 1
Philadelphia   9:30pm
Edmonton  
Buffalo   10:00pm
Anaheim  
Carolina   10:30pm
San Jose  
MONSTER ENERGY NASCAR CUP SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Pos # Name Start Pos
1 12 Ryan Blaney 9
2 6 Ryan Newman 13
3 11 Denny Hamlin 40
4 10 Aric Almirola 5
5 34 Michael McDowell 22
6 3 Austin Dillon 20
7 32 Corey Lajoie 33
8 9 Chase Elliott 1
9 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr 7
NASCAR XFINITY SERIES AT DOVER
Pos # Name Start Pos
1 00 Cole Custer 3
2 7 Justin Allgaier 8
3 22 Austin Cindric 2
4 11 Justin Haley 11
5 98 Chase Briscoe 1
6 1 Michael Annett 16
7 9 Noah Gragson 7
8 23 John Hunter Nemechek 17
9 8 Zane Smith 10
NASCAR GANDER OUTDOORS TRUCK SERIES AT TALLADEGA
Pos # Name Start Pos
1 20 Spencer Boyd 25
2 4 Todd Gilliland 6
3 51 Riley Herbst 7
4 24 Brett Moffitt 8
5 52 Stewart Friesen 10
6 16 Austin Hill 13
7 17 Tyler Ankrum 2
8 88 Matt Crafton 1
9 2 Sheldon Creed 5