O'Reilly: 24-team playoff will be 'toughest tournament' we'll ever play

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Ryan O'Reilly knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup. He took home the Conn Smythe Trophy last season after leading the St. Louis Blues on a miracle run to the title. And if the NHL proceeds with its 24-team postseason, he believes it will be a grueling tournament like nothing seen before.

"Every team is starting from scratch. Every team that's involved in this right now is looking that they have an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup, so it's going to be one of the toughest stretches of hockey that any of us will ever be in and the toughest tournament that any of us - it's like nothing else," O'Reilly said Monday.

"It's going to be extremely difficult - I think as a group we know that. We know it's going to be completely different from last year. We're not coming in finishing a season playing very well and having momentum and coming in. We're all starting at the same point."

The Blues looked to have a good chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions this season, entering the shutdown on March 12 sitting first in the Western Conference. As a result, St. Louis is guaranteed a berth in the 16-team postseason and will play a round-robin tournament against the conference's other top three teams to determine playoff seeding.

O'Reilly, 29, is eager to finish the campaign and ensure the work players have put in to this point doesn't go to waste, though he knows that's easier said than done.

"There's so many things that will be unfortunate - being away from our families, being confined in these small spaces. But I think it's important for our game - the growth of it - to be able to salvage this season and have a winner, not let the whole thing go to waste," he said. "But again, the priority is the safety and the safety of our families, the guys, whether they've had young kids or have kids ... that's definitely the priority.

"But I think the NHL's doing a good job putting in good practices to help us make sure nothing happens. But again, there's still a lot of uncertainty."

O'Reilly was enjoying another strong season before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted his second year with the Blues. He recorded 12 goals and 49 assists in 71 games.

O'Reilly: 24-team playoff will be 'toughest tournament' we'll ever play
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