CHICAGO -- Ryan O'Reilly was talking hockey per usual recently when the discussion shifted to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The St. Louis Blues center, who will play in the postseason for the first time since 2014 when he was with the Colorado Avalanche, got a little smile on his face.
"It's very refreshing, you know, to be back playing meaningful hockey," O'Reilly said. "Obviously, there were some tough years, especially at this time of the season, when you were wrapping [things] up."
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O'Reilly is happy with hockey again and a big reason the Blues are returning to the playoffs after failing to qualify last season. St. Louis will play the Winnipeg Jets in the Western Conference First Round. Game 1 of the best-of-7 series is Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS).
The 28-year-old led the Blues with 77 points (28 goals, 49 assists) and had a face-off winning percentage of 56.9. He also tied for the Blues lead in power-play points (22) with forward Vladimir Tarasenko.
Video: PHI@STL: O'Reilly deflects Perron's pass home for PPG
Forward Pat Maroon said O'Reilly's been a true leader.
"He's been our best player all year and on and off the ice, he's the guy we look up to and he brings energy on the ice, he brings work ethic every single night," Maroon said. "Obviously, there are nights when even elite players are off, but he competes every night. He's a great leader in this room, good for the young guys in here. He's an all-around absolute great person. We're fortunate to have him."
Forward Brayden Schenn had played with O'Reilly in international competition but said he gained a new appreciation for him this season.
"When you see it on an everyday basis, you get a feel for how good the guy really is," said Schenn, who plays on the first line with O'Reilly and Tarasenko. "He's good at both ends of the ice, very easy to play with and makes things easy on his linemates. He has good vision, is good with the [puck] battles and is a good face-off guy. There are a ton of elements to his game that make him a special player. Maybe he doesn't have the best of something, but he's very good at everything. He's a well-rounded player and very underrated."
The Blues acquired O'Reilly in a trade with the Buffalo Sabres on July 1 for forwards Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka and Tage Thompson, a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and a first-round pick in the 2019 or 2020 NHL Draft. The trade came after O'Reilly expressed his frustration following another season out of the playoffs with the Sabres, saying, "I feel throughout the year that I've lost the love of the game multiple times."
"It's tough coming to the rink when you can't seem to win," O'Reilly said last week. "Obviously you just love playing the games; it's the greatest job in the world. But losing is tough and it chips away at you."
But O'Reilly was positive St. Louis would achieve good things this season, even when they got off to a rough start. The Blues were 7-8-3 when coach Mike Yeo was fired and replaced by Craig Berube on Nov. 19 and were last in the NHL on Jan. 2. They went on an 11-game winning streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 19 and were 30-10-5 in their final 45 games to finish third in the Central Division, one point out of first place.
Video: VGK@STL: O'Reilly scores off stretch pass
"I've never been a part of anything like that before," O'Reilly said. "It just kind of helps remind you what it's all about and why we play the game, to have a chance to win a Cup. To be a part of a group like this, it just gave you new life; it was reminder of how good and exciting this game can be."
O'Reilly said he was confident that the Blues would make the playoffs at the 2019 Honda NHL All-Star Weekend in San Jose. At the time, they were 22-22-5 in sixth place in the division, three points out of a wild-card spot.
"I knew it would take time for it to start to click, and knowing how hard guys have been working for each other, eventually it was going to click, and it did," O'Reilly said. "We're going to the postseason and I think we can do well."
O'Reilly played 13 postseason games for the Avalanche in 2010 and 2014 and had seven points (three goals, four assists). He's more than ready for his long-awaited return to the playoffs with the Blues.
"This is what it's about, playing for the Stanley Cup," O'Reilly said. "That's what you train for in the summer and every time you touch the ice. To do that again, it brings back that life and excitement, for sure."