BOSTON – When Ryan O’Reilly steps on the ice Wednesday night for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final, it will be the 108th time this he has done so this season. There’s probably nobody in the world who has played that many games in 2018-19.
Check that. There’s actually probably some eight-year-old kid out there who played 85 games this season for an elite travelling team, then had his insane parents put him on a spring team that played in a bunch of tournaments. That kid might have played more, but that’s a rant for another day.
Actually, O’Reilly is flirting with history when it comes to the volume of games he’s played. Only one player in history has played more. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Marcus Nilson played 69 regular-season games for the Florida Panthers in 2003-04 before being dealt to the Calgary Flames at the trade deadline, where he played 14 regular-season games and another 26 playoff games for a total of 109. Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Valtteri Filppula and Anton Stralman all played 108 for the Tampa Bay Lightning in their run to the Stanley Cup final in 2015.
It’s one thing to play all 82 regular-season games and 26 more in the playoffs. It’s quite another to play them at the elite level in which O’Reilly has this season. He and Patrice Bergeron are finalists for the Selke Trophy and O’Reilly is also a finalist for the Lady Byng. And what makes it even more remarkable is that O’Reilly rarely takes a day off, often skating with the team even for optional practices. And if the Blues are to win their first Stanley Cup in franchise history with a road win Wednesday night, there’s a good chance the O’Reilly Factor is going to loom large.
“Oh yeah, for sure I know this has to be the best game of my life,” O’Reilly said. “But I’m sure everyone in our room feels that as well. That’s what Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final is. It’s everyone bringing everything they have and our best will hopefully beat their best.”
The way O’Reilly works and takes care of himself is an element in all of this. He’s the only player on either of these teams who played all 82 games this season and he missed only one last season. He’s in great shape and he’s very strong mentally. And when he does participate in those optional practices, he’s not just out there for a leisurely skate. He’s there to work on his game, which should come as no surprise to anyone who sees how his attention to detail makes him one of the best two-way centers in the league. It’s also a testament to his love for the game.
“I find when I can go out on the ice and practice certain skills, that builds confidence for myself,” O’Reilly said. “Just knowing I’ve put the work in a certain area, if I’ve been struggling at it, I think that helps me kind of reset and be confident in whatever little skill I’m working on. I like getting out there.”
For O’Reilly, most of those games have been played at an extremely high level, even when the Blues were playing terribly. The one constant in a Blues season that has seen as many downs as ups has been O’Reilly's play. Even when the Blues were the worst team in the NHL, the view from the outside was that it wasn’t on account of O’Reilly, who was actually playing some of the best hockey of his career.
“He’s been our most consistent player from start to finish,” said Blues center Brayden Schenn. “Even when we were playing terrible at the start, he was still a point a game. He was a star right from the beginning and he’s been doing it all playoffs. He does things at both ends of the ice that help our team win. The more you play with the guy you learn how good he is and we’re glad to have him on our team.”
So now Ryan O’Reilly will have to do it all over again one more time. You’d think that at this point he’d have to coax his 28-year-old body, but that’s not the case at all.
“We have a great medical staff that keeps me together,” O’Reilly said. “It doesn’t feel like that. It feels like there’s one game left and leave everything possible out there.”
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