NHL·Analysis

Playoff-starved Ryan O'Reilly feasts on Bruins in Game 4

O'Reilly's effort against the Boston Bruins was no surprise. After all, this is a guy who sports a playoff beard all season long. He starves for playoff hockey.

St. Louis centre making most of current post-season opportunity

St. Louis Blues centre Ryan O'Reilly (90) celebrates after the Blues beat the Boston Bruins in Game 4. (Jeff Roberson/The Associated Press)

Ryan O'Reilly was the man for the St. Louis Blues in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup final.

His brilliant two-goal outing gave his club a determined 4-2 victory in front of the Blues boisterous home crowd to knot the best-of-seven championship series at 2-2 on Monday.

O'Reilly's effort against the Boston Bruins was no surprise. After all, this is a guy who sports a playoff beard all season long. He starves for playoff hockey.

Usually, springtime for O'Reilly means a trip to Europe to represent Canada at the IIHF world championship. He has been part of some pretty sad teams early in his career with the Colorado Avalanche and Buffalo Sabres.

He didn't like the lack of success. He played in only 15 post-season games in his first nine seasons. But he found a way to prolong his season with Team Canada. He won world championship gold in 2015 and 2016, silver medal in 2017.

His loyalty to the national team program earned him a spot with Canada at the 2016 World Cup of hockey and he won gold at that tournament, too.

WATCH | O'Reilly scores twice as Blues even series:

St. Louis rebounded from a blowout loss in Game 3 with a 4-2 win over Boston on Monday to tie the series 2-2. 2:02

But O'Reilly wondered if his day would ever come with a long Stanley Cup playoff run. That ride arrived this spring. He's 23 games in and will have at least two more games to play, likely three the way this series has evolved.

If you know O'Reilly, you know he can talk hours about his favourite player Wayne Gretzky. Well, No. 99 was in the house to take in Game 4. He's a former Blues player, albeit for only a combined 31 regular season and playoff games back in 1996. But St. Louis is his wife Janet's hometown.

Gretzky, no doubt, hoped to witness the first victory for the Blues in a Stanley Cup final at home. The Blues suffered sweeps in their first three appearances in 1968, 1969 and 1970. They were beaten up pretty good in their first outing in 49 years in Game 3 last Saturday.

But O'Reilly led the Blues to the promised land for one evening. On the second shift of the game, he stormed into the Bruins zone and scored on a wraparound, 43 seconds into the game.

The Bruins hung tough, tied the game at 1-1 in the first period and 2-2 late in the second. Before the second tying goal, O'Reilly almost scored a shorthanded marker.

Nevertheless, he kept hopping over the boards with an effort that was easy to notice. Finally, with the game possibly headed to overtime, he swatted in a rebound from captain Alex Pietrangelo for the go-ahead goal midway through the second period.

Brayden Schenn added an empty-net goal. All of a sudden Laura Branigan's Gloria, the Blues victory song, was blaring on the Enterprise Center sound system.

The Blues were the better team in Game 4. But the Bruins hung around and almost found a way to win. They have been so effective on the road. The loss in St. Louis snapped a four-game win streak for the Bruins away from Boston.

But credit the 28-year-old O'Reilly for setting the tone. His teammates, particularly David Perron and Patrick Maroon, stayed away from the high-school hijinx.

Maroon purposely bumped into Boston players during the pregame warmup on Saturday. He tried to unnerve Bruins captain Zdeno Chara in Game 3 with words as did Perron with Boston's unflappable goalie Tuukka Rask.

Boston Bruins defenceman Zdeno Chara kneels on the ice after being hit in the face by the puck during the second period. (Scott Kane/The Associated Press)

Rask had not allowed more than two goals on the road in this playoff run since Game 4 of the Bruins' first-round series in Toronto against the Maple Leafs.

Now the Bruins have two days before Game 5 in Boston to sort out their blue-line injuries. While the Blues saw the return of Vince Dunn to their defensive corps after almost two weeks off to heal a facial injury, the Bruins lost Chara to a similar ailment on Monday.

He blocked a shot with his face early in the second period. He returned to sit on the bench in the third period, but the captain did not play. Now the Bruins have two critical injuries to deal with their defence. Matt Grzelcyk has been out with a head injury since he was hit from behind in Game 2 by St. Louis fourth-liner Oscar Sundqvist.

Yes, thanks to O'Reilly and his playoff hunger, the first four games of this series have been the perfect appetizer for what should be a delicious finish to the final.

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