After last season’s final game, he and his teammates passed around the Stanley Cup in victory. But O’Reilly didn’t recognize the team around him Friday night, as far as their effort and execution were concerned.
“We didn’t play like we normally did,” O’Reilly said after the Blues were eliminated with a 6-2 loss in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals in Edmonton. “There were times when we were hard to play against, but we weren’t consistent with it. At times we looked like a junior team out there, turning the puck over and not playing the right way.”
Last postseason, the Blues rolled to the first championship in franchise history with a total team effort, getting buy-in from every player in their lineup. While the team was missing some injured players this series — most notably star winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who left the NHL “bubble” to get his surgically repaired shoulder examined after two ineffective games against Vancouver — it was a lack of effort from the entire roster that left St. Louis befuddled after the series.
“It didn’t seem that our energy was coming from everyone,” said winger David Perron.
Blues coach Craig Berube agreed.
“There were a few games where the energy wasn’t there. We needed more from more guys,” he said. “David Perron’s right: It’s not good enough. You can’t win in this league unless you have every guy ready to go in the playoffs. You have to have that. Our team was successful last year because we had everybody on board, every night.”
The Blues were also successful last season because of Jordan Binnington, the rookie goaltender who backstopped them to the Cup with strong play and unshakable confidence. After a good 2019-20 season, he was mediocre in the postseason, losing his first four games and then losing the crease to backup Jake Allen after two straight losses to open the Vancouver series. Allen won Games 3 and 4, but lost Game 5.
Berube had a choice to make for Game 6. He went with the goalie he won with last season. It didn’t work.
Binnington was pulled 8 minutes, 6 seconds into the second period, having given up four goals on 18 shots. Last season, Binnington went 16-10 with a .914 save percentage, including a Game 7 win on the road in the Stanley Cup final for the championship. In this postseason, he was 0-5 with a .851 playoff save percentage.
“Jake played three games in a row, obviously lost the third one,” Berube said. “Binner’s been a big-time goalie for us for a long time. He had some practice, worked on his game. It’s a gut feeling. He’s done a lot for us. Won a championship with him. But Binner’s a lot like our whole team. We didn’t play at the level that we needed to play. That’s just the bottom line.”
O’Reilly put the blame on the team in front of Binnington.
“It’s disappointing, the way we played in front of him,” he said. “One of the reasons that we’re here is because of him, and we did a terrible job helping him out. We have to defend better. We have to have jump in front of him. It’s on us. It wasn’t good enough. It’s embarrassing.”
The Canucks built a 2-0 lead on goals generated by their fourth line. Jay Beagle beat Binnington cleanly for his first of the postseason, after a strong Canucks forecheck at 3:45 of the first period. Antoine Roussel made it 2-0 at 2:09 of the second period, converting a Vince Dunn turnover into a goal. It was 3-0 on Troy Stecher’s goal at 6:49 of the second period, as Vancouver did what it does best: Cashing in on a four-pass sequence started by star Elias Pettersson, leaving the Blues bewildered. An untimely slashing penalty on Oskar Sundqvist led to a Brock Boeser power-play goal at 8:06 of the second period to make it 4-0, chasing Binnington.
“They came into the series expecting to win,” said Vancouver coach Travis Green. “They played and believed like they could win, [and were] confident. It’s important to the city. There’s so much excitement every year. I hope they’re celebrating safely. I’m happy for the people of Vancouver.”
The Blues enter an offseason with a considerable question mark: the fate of captain Alex Pietrangelo, who is an unrestricted free agent on a team with just over $2 million in salary cap space open for next season.
“It’s not a fun situation to be in,” the veteran defenseman said. “Especially when you’ve been one place your whole career. I guess my only thought is to get home, see my kids and see where the future takes us.”
If it is Pietrangelo’s last game with the Blues, he was witness to an uncharacteristic effort, not only in their final loss to Vancouver but throughout their time in the Edmonton “bubble.” As Berube said, nothing came easy for them, and they made it too easy for their opponents.
“I’m not taking anything away from Vancouver. They’re a good young hockey team,” he said. “But we just made too many mistakes. We gave them goals.”