To grandma with love: O’Reilly hopes to take Cup to big fan

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BOSTON (AP) — Ryan O'Reilly should expect another email from his 99-year-old grandmother.

Congratulations from Deirdre O’Reilly are certainly in order after her grandson won the Stanley Cup and the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player in the NHL playoffs. O’Reilly scored the opening goal for the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final to help beat Boston 4-1 and give the franchise its first title in its 51st season.

”You dream of this for so long,” he said. ”As a kid, that feeling comes back to you of just what it means to win this thing. I still can’t believe this. I can’t believe I’m here right now and a Stanley Cup champion with this group of guys.”

O’Reilly made good on Doug Armstrong’s blockbuster trade to acquire him last summer – and the line he told the St. Louis general manager on that initial call: ”Let’s go win a Cup.”

O’Reilly was a major reason for that. He set a Blues record with 24 playoff points and became the first player since Wayne Gretzky in 1985 to score in four consecutive Cup Final games.

”His worth ethic and his production for us all year and then throughout the playoffs, he was just a relentless hockey player for a long time,” coach Craig Berube said. ”Never quits. Such a smart two-way player. He’s a special player.”

And O’Reilly did much of it after cracking a rib during the second round against Dallas and doing worse damage in the Western Conference final against San Jose. O’Reilly wanted so badly to excel in these moments that he played through the pain.

”There was a couple tough games, but once you kind of get going and the adrenaline takes over, I didn’t notice it,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly’s grandmother watches and emails him from Seaforth, Ontario, where he grew up playing hockey. She bought him multiple pairs of skates when he was a kid and has tracked his progress very closely.

”She’s obviously a big part of my career,” O’Reilly said.

The 28-year-old center’s career hit a new peak this season when he was a finalist for the Selke Trophy as best defensive forward and the Lady Byng for sportsmanlike and gentlemanly conduct. Then he raised his game even further.

After scoring just three goals in his first 22 playoff games, O’Reilly scored five in the past four to carry the Blues to the Stanley Cup.

”He looks energized to me a little bit more, more jump in his stride out there, and he’s finishing,” Berube said recently. ”He gets chances all the time, but he’s finishing right now.”

This is the time O’Reilly had been waiting for after several soul-crushing seasons in Buffalo. After getting a taste of the playoffs with Colorado in 2010 and 2014, he missed with the Avalanche in 2015 and with the Sabres from 2016-2018.

O’Reilly raised eyebrows on locker cleanout day in Buffalo 15 months ago when he said he’d “lost the love of the game” multiple times throughout a trying season and needed to get it back. The trade to St. Louis last summer changed everything, and now it’s back in every possible way.

”It’s very refreshing,” O’Reilly said. ”It just kind of helps remind you what it’s all about and why as a kid you play the game to have a chance to win a Stanley Cup and to be a part of a group like this, it just gave me a new life and reminder of how good and exciting this game can be.”

O’Reilly stated the obvious that winning is fun, losing is tough and ”it eats away at you.” It was fun for the Blues in coming back from 1-0 and 2-1 series deficits in the final in large part because O’Reilly helped lead the way.

Following a horrendous faceoff performance in a blowout Game 3 loss, O’Reilly won 43 of 70 faceoffs the next three times out to help the Blues control play and take it to the Bruins.

O’Reilly of course scored some big goals in the process, too. Throughout the season, he earned a ton of respect from his teammates, referring Patrick Maroon to his sports psychologist dad and pulling a team together that had six new faces.

”Off the ice, he’s an unreal guy,” linemate Zach Sanford said. ”Everyone loves him. He’s a good guy, he’s a nice guy. He’s always putting in the work. You see him after practice, leading all these drills on the ice and before games doing all these warmup drills and stuff. Obviously on the ice he’s a great player. He’s good offensively and defensively. There’s not too many guys that can do it at the level he does.”

That showed in the Stanley Cup Final that made all those years watching playoffs this time of year feel like they had a purpose.

”The Cup is the ultimate goal,” O’Reilly said. ”(I was) just trying to go out there and be the spark and try to make a difference.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

Wednesday Night Hockey: What happens if Preds don’t turn season around?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

It’s no secret that Predators general manager David Poile felt like his team needed a signficant change or two heading into this season. During the summer, he went out and unloaded some big money and he spent some on the free-agent market, too. But now that we’re four months into the season, we can say that those changes haven’t really worked.

The first significant move the Preds made was unloading P.K. Subban to the New Jersey Devils. The trade didn’t net Nashville a big return, but it was clear that they were just looking to offload his $9 million cap charge and that’s exactly what they did.

Poile then turned around and used that money to sign free-agent center Matt Duchene to a seven-year, $56 million deal. Duchene was one of the top players to hit the open market and the Predators clearly needed an upgrade up front and down the middle. No one questioned the fit because it filled a need.

Trading Subban proved to be a wise decision. His play in New Jersey has left a lot to be desired and you have to wonder whether or not a previous injury has slowed him down for good. But giving Duchene $8 million per year hasn’t exactly paid off yet either. Through 45 games, the 29-year-old has 10 goals and 32 points.

It’s not just on Duchene though.

Poile has already fired head coach Peter Laviolette and his replacement, John Hynes, is 3-4-0 with his new team through seven games. Sure, that’s a small sample size, but coaching changes are supposed to give teams new life. Sometimes that burst lasts a short while, sometimes it goes on longer, but the Preds haven’t really seen a change in their results.

“Every year and every team you go through different challenges, and there’s different things that present teams positively and negatively,” Hynes said, per the Nashville Post. “Right now our biggest task from the coaches to the players is finding a way [to] put multiple games together, [to] put full games together.

“So, it’s on everybody — the coaches and the players. The good thing is we know what the challenge is. It’s not like you’re at a dartboard. I think we know exactly what we have to take care of, and that’s part of what our challenge is as a group and that’s what we have to overcome.”

Heading into tonight’s non-conference game, they find themselves six points back of Vegas for the final Wild Card spot. The good news is that they have four games in hand on the Golden Knights. The bad news is that they have to leap over four teams to get into a playoff spot.

So, what happens if they don’t turn the season around?

On a somewhat positive note, the Predators have most of their own picks in the upcoming NHL Draft. Unlike San Jose, they didn’t sacrifice their first-round pick in any trade. On the contrary, they added a second-round draft pick from New Jersey in the Subban deal.

Still, this is a team that had long playoff aspirations this season.

Would Poile get the boot? It’s possible, but unlikely. This is the first time the Preds would miss the playoffs in a while and you’d have to think that the long-time GM would get the benefit of the doubt.

Whether they keep him or not, they’ll have some interesting roster decisions to make.

Is Ryan Johansen working out? How can they unload Kyle Turris? How much do they pay free-agent to be Mikael Granlund? Can they address their bottom pairing on defense? Is the Pekka Rinne, Juuse Saros duo good enough?

These are all legitimate questions that will need answering this summer if these players don’t get things turned around.

Johansen is arguably the most intriguing case.

He has five years remaining on his contract at a cap hit of $8 million. He’s still just 27 years old and if they wanted to move him, they could probably do that. But that still leaves them lacking a productive centerman.

What they really need to determine is whether or not their Stanley Cup window is closed. That will impact how they answer all the other questions on our list. With the way the roster is built and the age of some their players, it’s hard to envision the Predators thinking they don’t have a chance to turn things around quickly. Blowing this up after this year is a little premature. But if they don’t make the playoffs, something has to give. They’re going to have to fix the blemishes on the roster and that won’t be easy.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Our Line Starts podcast: All-Star reactions, handicapping the Pacific Divison

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Liam McHugh, Anson Carter, and Keith Jones give their impressions of All-Star Weekend, including rave reviews on St. Louis as a host city. Pierre McGuire interviews Dallas GM Jim Nill, and Anson tells you what Rodney Dangerfield and Ben Bishop have in common. Plus, the guys handicap the uber-tight Pacific Division entering the stretch run.

Start-1:50 Intros
1:50-8:00 Reaction to All-Star Weekend
8:00-14:45 Battle of Alberta heats up again
14:45-26:30 Pierre interviews Jim Nill
26:30-32:35 How far can Stars go?
32:35-end Handicapping the Pacific Division

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

PHT Morning Skate: Weber’s comeback year; Where should Bolts upgrade?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• If the Predators continue struggling, they’ll have to ask themselves some tough questions. (The Hockey News)

• There’s several reasons why there should be concern in Winnipeg, according to Travis Yost. (TSN.ca)

• The Jets have an issue on defense and there’s no easy way to address it. (Arctic Hockey)

Chris Tanev has helped Quinn Hughes settle into the NHL. (Sportsnet)

Shea Weber is having a great comeback season and people around the NHL are noticing. (The Score)

• Dave Andreychuk answered five questions from NHL.com. (NHL)

Boone Jenner is playing big defensive minutes for Columbus, but is that working out? (The Cannon)

• How have the Bruins done in their own end this season? (Stanley Cup of Chowder)

• It’s officially time to call the Canadiens sellers. (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• Which position should Lightning GM Julien BriseBois consider upgrading before the trade deadline? (Raw Charge)

• The Coyotes added Taylor Hall via trade in December. Is it time for them to keep buying? (Five For Howling)

• On the Forecheck breaks down the untouchables and the tradable players on the Preds roster. (On the Forecheck)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: Blues edge Flames in shootout; Eichel sets new career high

The St. Louis Blues celebrate their 5-4 shootout win over the Calgary Flames
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Three Stars

1) David Perron, St. Louis Blues

After making the All-Star Game for the first time in his NHL career, Perron started the second half of the season with a two-game point streak. He added a goal, an assist and a shootout tally as the Blues defeated the Flames 5-4 in a back-and-forth battle that ended in the skills competition. The 31-year-old forward notched his 22nd of the season when he hammered home a loose puck in front to knot the game at 2-2 late in the first period. Perron also made a nifty pass to help St. Louis exit the zone before Zach Sanford tied the game early in the final frame. Additionally, the Blues snapped a three-game losing streak.

2) Sean Monahan, Calgary Flames

The Flames alternate captain is still a bit behind his 82-point total pace from last year after surpassing his previous career-high by 18 points set the season before. Monahan remains a critical piece in the Flames’ lineup as they prepare for a playoff push in the tightly contested Pacific Division. The 25-year-old recorded his 400th career point when he snapped off a wrist shot from the slot at 15:43 of the first period to give Calgary a 2-1 lead at the time. He would go on to record his second of the game, another wrister from the slot, early in the middle frame to even the score at 3-3.

3) Mark Borowiecki, Ottawa Senators

It’s not often an empty-net goal helps an NHL player land on this list, but Borowiecki’s game-sealing tally late in the third period was quite the play in the Senators’ 5-2 win against the Sabres. Ottawa’s alternate captain willingly went down on one knee in order to block a one-timer from Marcus Johansson to help preserve a one-goal lead at the time. After the block, Borowiecki quickly gathered himself, collected a loose puck and fired it off the boards into the empty cage. The Senators lead the NHL with 11 shorthanded goals.

Highlights of the Night

Blues forward Robert Thomas feathered a beautiful cross-ice pass between a couple of Calgary Flames to set up Alexander Steen to open the scoring.

In his 500th NHL game, Jaden Schwartz recorded his 17th of the season when he redirected a pretty pass from Brayden Schenn.

[RELATED: Predators facing difficult road in playoff push | How the Canucks climbed to top of Pacific Division]

Blooper of the Night

Who should get credit for this empty-net goal?

Stat of the Night

Scores

Ottawa Senators 5, Buffalo Sabres 2

St. Louis Blues 5, Calgary Flames 4 (SO)

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.