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

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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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Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

Ilya Mikheyev
Bob Frid/USA TODAY Sports
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Nick Turchiaro/USA TODAY Sports
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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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David Kirouac/USA TODAY Sports
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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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Joe Nicholson/USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.