NASHVILLE – Ryan O’Reilly was in the middle of a defensive struggle. In an All-Star Game. The Buffalo Sabres center was surprised like everyone in Bridgestone Arena that Sunday’s championship game between the Atlantic and Pacific Divisions was scoreless after the first 10 minutes.
“It was 0-0 there and I was looking up thinking, ‘What’s going on? How is there not one goal?’ ” O’Reilly said after his team’s 1-0 defeat. “Guys were checking tight, backchecking, clogging it up. It was a competitive game and fun. I’d rather do that than have it wide open.
“It’s great for the game. It seemed like a better way to show the talent in this league and the competitiveness. From my own experience, when I’m playing best is when it’s more competitive. That’s when most guys’ games comes out.”
In the Atlantic’s 4-3 semifinal win over the Metropolitans, O’Reilly played six minutes, 59 seconds. He had one shot on goal and was 2-4 on faceoffs. In the championship, he played 6:45 with one shot on goal, went 4-1 on faceoffs and had a team-high three takeaways. He was also on the ice for the lone goal, by Anaheim’s Corey Perry.
O’Reilly had one point, an assist to Florida’s Aaron Ekblad on a two-on-one break that forged a 3-3 tie in the semifinal.
“He was coming in with a lot of speed and I tried to throw a nice saucer to him,” O’Reilly said. “He did a nice job. I felt him coming from a mile away and he was gearing up for it.”
O’Reilly had a conversation earlier Sunday with NBC analyst Jeremy Roenick, who tweeted an apology to O’Reilly for saying the player with the biggest contract in Sabres history was overrated and overpaid.
“He just said he had never really saw me play before until this year,” O’Reilly said. “I didn’t even know what he had said but he just said, ‘I feel bad. I’ve seen you more, what you can do and I’m very impressed and sorry for saying that.’
“It shows he’s a class act. Definitely no hard feelings. I’ve always looked up to Jeremy Roenick and actually used his curve” on his stick. “I was talking to him about that too.”
Nashville fans don’t like the Chicago Blackhawks because their red-clad fans often soak up tickets here.
And because the Hawks have been a perennial playoff nemesis. So South Buffalo native Patrick Kane incurred their wrath all weekend. He was crushed with boos every time he touched the puck.
“They booed me all weekend. I don’t think they like the Blackhawks here,” said a smiling Kane. “I didn’t expect that. Usually when we’re here you don’t hear too many boos when you touch the puck. Playing with the Predators and being on the Central Division team I thought they’d be cheering for us. But I guess that’s the way it is.”
Former Sabres coach Lindy Ruff enjoyed his stint behind the bench for the Central stars.
“Our game was looser than the first game but with the format you got a pretty good effort on the offensive side,” Ruff said of Central’s 9-6 semifinal loss to the Pacific. “Maybe a little tough on the defensive side a few times. But the skating inside the game was pretty good. You saw a couple real good backchecks there. I thought the format worked out well for the first time around. Players operated at a high skill level and seemed to be engaged.”
Ruff started all four Nashville players, as urged by Preds GM David Poile, and Nashville forward James Neal scored the first goal 26 seconds into the game.
“Everyone wanted to see them on the ice together,” Ruff said. “For Neal to score right off the bat was special for him.”