NASHVILLE - Ryan O'Reilly was at center ice for the opening faceoff of his first NHL All-Star Game and had a strong showing even though his team didn't come out on top at the 3-on-3 tournament.
O'Reilly - representing the Buffalo Sabres - and the Atlantic Division All-Stars defeated the Metropolitan Division All-Stars 5-4 in the semifinal round, but fell to the Pacific Division All-Stars 1-0 in the championship game at Bridgestone Arena.
Yes, that's right. 1-0. In an All-Star Game.
"After the first 10 minutes there, looking up and it was 0-0, I was kind of like, 'What's going on? How is there not one goal?'" O'Reilly said afterward. "But guys were checking tight and backchecking and clogging it up. It was a competitive game. It was just fun. I'd rather do that than just have it wide open. But I definitely thought there would be more goals."
The NHL tweaked the format for the 2016 NHL Honda NHL All-Star Game, making it a 3-on-3 tournament between divisions. Each tournament game consisted of two 20-minute periods and while the goal total was down in the final, the shot totals were still pretty high. The Atlantic outshot the Pacific 17-16.
Roberto Luongo stopped all 12 shots he saw in the first 10 minutes of the final for the Atlantic and was replaced by Ben Bishop for the second period. He stopped three of four shots. For the Pacific, Jonathan Quick made 10 saves and John Gibson made seven.
"All the goalies played well. It's nice. It shows how talented they are," O'Reilly said. "Most All-Star Games, it's pass backdoor and so much passing. When guys here are shooting and doing everything at a high pace, you can see how really good these goaltenders are."
There was a little bit more defense in these games than in years past and O'Reilly made some nice plays along the way on the backcheck to break up scoring chances for the opposition.
You can count him among the fans of the format change.
"It's a better way to show the talent that's in this league and show the competitiveness," he said. "From my own experience, I think when I'm playing best, it's when there's more competitiveness and that's when the better parts of my game comes out."
TEAM ATLANTIC VS. TEAM METROPOLITAN
O'Reilly tallied one assist, one shot and a plus-1 rating in the win over the Metropolitan Division All-Stars while winning two of six faceoffs. P.K. Subban netted the winner with 4:38 to play in the second. Ben Bishop was strong during the second period, making 11 saves on 12 shots including a breakaway on Kris Letang and two pad saves on Evgeni Malkin in the final minute.
O'Reilly started the game on a unit with Jaromir Jagr and Erik Karlsson and saw a lot of time on the ice with them. However, he registered his point while playing with a different pair of teammates.
His assist came on the game-tying goal with 7:08 when he collected a pass from Leo Komarov at center ice and skated over the line on the left wing. O'Reilly patiently waited as he moved down the left wing for the precise moment to hit Ekblad - who was coming up with a full head of steam - in stride with a cross-ice pass. Ekblad was able to on-time the puck in past Cory Schneider.
"I felt him coming from a mile away. He was gearing up for it," O'Reilly said. "I just put it into an area so he could skate into it. … Looked like he was coming with a lot of speed, just tried to throw a little sauce over to him and he did a nice job putting it in."
O'Reilly skated 6:59 in that first 20-minute game, which ranked third on his team. Only Patrice Bergeron (8:37) and P.K. Subban (7:23) played more for the Atlantic Division.
That win set the stage for the championship game, which saw O'Reilly and his teammates face former Sabres forward John Scott's Team Pacific. The Pacific Division had defeated the Central All-Stars 9-6 in the second game of the day to advance to the final.
TEAM ATLANTIC VS. TEAM PACIFIC
In the championship game, O'Reilly logged a minus-1 rating with one shot on goal and three takeaways in 6:45 played. He won 80 percent of his faceoffs (4-for-5).
Corey Perry scored the winner 2:53 left in the second period. Scott, who scored twice in the Pacific Division's first victory, was named MVP, which was voted on by fans on social media. Scott's name wasn't an initial option, but he received overwhelming support.
The fans voted to get him into the game in the first place, so as Scott joked later, it was fitting that they also helped him win a new van (the prize for the MVP), which he and his pregnant wife will need with twins on the way next week.
BACK TO WORK
For O'Reilly, he'll rejoin his Sabres teammates as they prepare for the final 32 games of the regular season. That starts on Wednesday in Montreal.
"It was a good break. Things were still a little busy here, but it was a good time to just get away from the intensity of the season and just relax and have fun with this group of guys," he said. "It will be nice to get back in the homestretch of this."