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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Barkov, Monahan, O’Reilly are 2019 Lady Byng Trophy finalists

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Next up in the NHL’s 2018-19 awards announcements is the Lady Byng Trophy, which is awarded “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”

The nominees, who are voted for by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the conclusion of the regular season, are Aleksander Barkov of the Florida Panthers, Sean Monahan of the Calgary Flames, and Ryan O'Reilly of the St. Louis Blues.

O’Reilly, who won the award in 2014 and was a finalist in 2018, was announced on Wednesday as one of the three Selke Trophy finalists.

Lady Byng, wife of Canada’s Governor General at the time, presented the Lady Byng Trophy during the 1924-25 season. After Frank Boucher of the New York Rangers won the award seven times in eight seasons, he was given the trophy to keep and Lady Byng donated another trophy in 1936. After Lady Byng’s death in 1949, the NHL presented a new trophy, changing the name to the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Case For Aleksander Barkov: The Panthers forward, who was also a finalist in 2016 and 2018, recorded a career season with 35 goals and 96 points in 82 games. He received 1,833:01 of ice time and only wound up taking four minor penalties, the fewest among the NHL’s top 50 scorers this season.

The Case For Sean Monahan: Like Barkov, Monahan also registered a career season with 34 goals and 82 points in 78 games. In 1,486:16 of ice time, he recorded only six minors, the fifth time he’s finished a season with 20 or fewer penalty minutes. A victory for Monahan would make him the third Flames player to take home the award since 2015 (Jiri Hudler, Johnny Gaudreau).

The Case For Ryan O’Reilly: Another career season here as the Blues forward scored 28 goals and recorded 77 points in 82 games. He also played a career high in minutes with 1,702:13 and was only called for six minors. It was the 10th time in 10 seasons for O’Reilly that picked up fewer than 20 penalty minutes.

MORE 2019 NHL AWARD FINALISTS:
Selke Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Bergeron, O’Reilly, Stone are the 2019 Selke Trophy finalists

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It’s awards season! The NHL has begun to roll out the nominees for the 2018-19 awards beginning with the Selke Trophy, which is awarded “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”

The nominees, who are voted for by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the conclusion of the regular season, are Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Ryan O'Reilly of the St. Louis Blues, and Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The trophy was first  presented in 1977 by the NHL Board of Governors in honor of Frank J. Selke, one of the architects of Montreal and Toronto Stanley Cup winning teams.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Case For Patrice Bergeron: The four-time winner of the trophy, Bergeron finished the regular season with 32 goals and 79 points. He was eighth overall in face-off win percentage (56.6%), the 10th straight season he’s had a success rate in the dot of at least 56%. He also posted a 56.77% Corsi rating, the eighth consecutive season he’s reached at least the 55% mark in the category. This is his eighth straight year as a finalist and one more win will see him pass Bob Gainey for most Selke wins ever.

The Case For Ryan O’Reilly: Leading the Blues with 77 points, including 23 goals, O’Reilly enjoyed his first season with in St. Louis. He was once again strong in the face-off circle with a 56.9% success rate, posted a 53.44 Corsi %, his best since the 2013 NHL season, and had a 2.82 Corsi relative percentage. The Blues had a 93.39% on-ice save percentage when O’Reilly was out there at even strength and his 42.53 expected goals against percentage led the team’s forwards.

The Case For Mark Stone: A win here for the Golden Knights forward would bring a bit of history. The last Selke winner who wasn’t a center was Jere Lehtinen, who took home the award in 2002-03 while a member of the Dallas Stars. Stone was one of two players to have over 100 takeaways (122) this season, leading the NHL in that category. He posted a 52.99% Corsi rating and was third among all forwards with at least 800 5-on-5 minutes with an 8.16 Corsi relative percentage.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

O’Reilly’s impaired driving hearing pushed back to September

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From the Associated Press:

Sabres forward Ryan O’Reilly’s court case in connection with an impaired driving charge has been continued to Sept. 10.

The decision was made Thursday morning during O’Reilly’s first hearing in London, Ontario, court. The 24-year-old player was not required to attend, and was represented by his lawyer, David Humphrey.

The court case stems from an incident in mid-July, in which O’Reilly reportedly drove his truck into a Tim Horton’s restaurant.

Back on July 13, the Ontario Provincial police announced O’Reilly had been charged with driving a motor vehicle while impaired and, under the Highway Traffic act, failing to remain at the scene.

More, from Ontario’s AM 980 radio:

According to Middlesex County OPP, a green Chevrolet pickup truck struck a commercial building on Richmond St. last Thursday morning (July 9) just after 4:00am. An employee of the Lucan Tim Hortons confirmed to AM980 that there had been a motor vehicle incident, but was unaware of the driver’s identity.

After the collision, police say a suspect drove the vehicle southbound on Saintsbury Line, before abandoning it and traveling by foot with another, unnamed, male occupant.

Two weeks prior to the incident, O’Reilly signed a seven-year, $52.5 million deal with the Sabres, after he was acquired from Colorado at the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

Colorado Avalanche ’15-16 Outlook

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The Colorado Avalanche can be a tough nut to crack.

If you bounce around “Hockey Twitter” at all, the team very much stands as a guinea pig in the “stats vs. tradition” debate (or whatever you’d like to call it). That debate often gets a little weird and then overshadows the team itself.

When you look at the Avalanche, it’s an odd mix of old and new.

You have old ideas and old faces in management with Patrick Roy and Joe Sakic running the ship. They seemingly lean toward signing old veterans from Jarome Iginla to Francois Beauchemin.

The fresh faces make this squad awfully interesting, however. Gabriel Landeskog is still one of the NHL’s youngest captains at 22. With all the pressure on Nathan MacKinnon to make the next step, one might forget that he’s just 19. Matt Duchene and Tyson Barrie remain in the meat of their primes at 24.

What if all four of those promising young players make significant strides that often come at such ages, particularly MacKinnon, who may just be scratching the surface of his skill set as people move onto to the next big thing in Connor McDavid? Could the Avalanche see earlier-than-expected results from still-blooming prospects like Nikita Zadorov and Mikhail Grigorenko?

Ryan O’Reilly is a tough player to let go – and he’s also just 24 – but when you look at that group, it’s quite a bit easier to stomach, isn’t it?

Yes, that defense looks pretty shaky beyond a handful of solid players such as Barrie and Erik Johnson, meaning the Avalanche will again lean heavily on Semyon Varlamov.

Still, with the abundance of talent at the forward position in particular, even the most ardent number-crunchers would shudder to dismiss the Avalanche outright.