As became the story of the 2018-19 St. Louis Blues, they got the ending they wanted on Wednesday, but not the start. The Boston Bruins were dominant for most of the first period, then Ryan O’Reilly changed the course of events. He’s been rather good at that throughout the playoffs and especially in the Stanley Cup Final. For that, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy.
O’Reilly scored eight goals and 23 points in 26 games to help lead St. Louis to a championship. He only got better as the stakes got higher too, scoring a goal in each of the final four contests of the playoffs. The last player to score a goal in four consecutive Stanley Cup Final games was Wayne Gretzky back in 1985, per NHL.com’s Tom Gulitti.
There were certainly other contenders for the award too. Going into Game 7, Tuukka Rask was regarded as a heavy favorite. After all, he had been dominant throughout the playoffs and entered the deciding contest with a 1.93 GAA and .938 save percentage in 23 postseason starts. There’s a strong argument to be made that he still deserved the Conn Smythe even if Boston lost with Rask allowing four goals on 20 shots tonight.
Another serious option was Jordan Binnington. With a 2.52 GAA and .911 save percentage in 25 starts going into Wednesday’s action, Binnington didn’t share Rask’s glowing statsline. However, Binnington has constantly stepped up when the Blues have needed him the most. Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final was the biggest example of that yet, with him not surrendering the shutout until 17:50 of the third period. If Binnington hadn’t bailed out the Blues during their first period struggles, the course of this contest could have been very different.
Nevertheless, giving the trophy to O’Reilly makes a lot of sense. He led the series in goals (five) and points (nine) and was a major driver of St. Louis’ offense throughout the postseason. You look at events that led the Blues to this day and it’s hard not to think back to last summer when Buffalo dealt O’Reilly to the Blues. If St. Louis hadn’t been able to execute that trade, would they have won it all today? Probably not.
O’Reilly didn’t do it by himself. The Blues were a team of depth and many heroes, but he was a huge difference for this club and for that he’s been rewarded.