By Lou Korac
Ryan O’Reilly had to smile when asked about the last time he scored a hat trick Tuesday night.
“I think my last one was in … well, if we count summer hockey, probably this summer I had a hat trick,” O’Reilly said. “I think we’re going back deep to probably minor-midget. Yeah, it feels good to have an official one. It’s been awhile.”
O’Reilly put that check mark — finally — next to his first NHL hat trick when he scored three times and extended his point streak to eight games (seven goals, eight assists), tying a personal NHL best, in helping the Blues win for the third time in four games, 4-1 over the Carolina Hurricanes before 16,210 at Enterprise Center.
O’Reilly scored twice in the first period, including a clutch power-play goal with 4.7 seconds left in the first period to give the Blues (5-5-3) a 3-1 lead before capping it off with an empty-netter with 3:10 remaining.
“Yeah, it feels good,” O’Reilly said. “It was really nice. I think I’ve had a few two-goal games. The hat trick actually feels pretty nice. I was thinking about it for sure, I think, a little bit too much in the second period. But once I got back to playing hockey, things happen.”
Chad Johnson, making just his second start of the season (fourth appearance), was terrific with a 38-save performance, and Robby Fabbri scored his first goal in nearly two years to help the Blues to their third win in the past four.
“It’s just about winning,” Blues coach Mike Yeo said. “That’s what it is. Bottom line it’s about winning. We’re not in a position where we can … obviously we have to keep building and learning lessons. To me, we’ve won three out of our last four and it doesn’t really feel like that. That’s the funny thing.
“But at the same time we have won three out of our last four, so we’re not here patting ourselves on the back. We have to get a lot better. So to me that’s what we use these next two days for is look at some video tomorrow of some of the mistakes and some of the things that we’re doing to ourselves and how we’re putting ourselves in these positions and we try to get better and we try to improve on that for our next one.”
The Blues were outshot 39-20 (Carolina came in leading the NHL in shots on goal per game at 41.8). The Hurricanes had a 71-36 shot advantage in the game and the majority of them came in the final two periods when the Hurricanes (6-7-2), who have lost five in a row (0-4-1), outshot the Blues 25-9.
“Yeah, I think obviously throughout the year, that’s happened before,” O’Reilly said. “We get our leads and we get back to thinking a bit too much. I think we expect it to be a little easier. But you know what, we regrouped in the second (intermission) and came out in the third the right way. You know it wasn’t a perfect game but we won it. We responded well after that second.”
Johnson was terrific at times, making point blank stops on Jordan Staal and Justin WIlliams, to name a few. Johnson, who is now 8-3-1 lifetime against the Hurricanes, earned his first win as a Blue.
“They didn’t reach the average that they were at,” Johnson said of the Hurricanes. “I think the average is 42, so we got a little bit lower than that. It was a big win. I thought the guys played well. They were throwing pucks all over the place at the net, but they didn’t have a lot of second chances, I didn’t think. We did a good job of just battling. It was nice to get thsoe two points.
“… I felt like for the most part, I controlled a lot of the pucks and ate a lot of pucks up. I think the only times they got chances was when they hit the post and there was a rebound and I got a save too. I got lucky on some of them as well, but yeah, I thought I was pretty good off the rebounds tonight.”
It was a tidy first period for the Blues, who led 3-1 on an O’Reilly goal at 11:57, Fabbri’s goal at 14:01 and O’Reilly’s power-play goal with five seconds remaining, the sixth straight game in which the Blues have scored a power play goal.
O’Reilly made it 1-0 when Alex Pietrangelo was able to pinch in the offensive zone and poke-check Micheal Ferlund into a turnover, and Vladimir Tarasenko, who had two assists and extended his point streak to five games (four goals, three assists), fed O’Reilly at the left post before he beat Curtis McElhinney.
A two-goal swing went favorably for the Blues when a Jordan Schmaltz whiff of the puck turned into an odd-man rush for the speedy Hurricanes. Andrei Svechnikov hit the post, and Johnson was able to make a solid left skate save on the rebound before Robert Thomas was able to draw two defenders, find Fabbri in the open ice and then it was a bit of a mini 2-on-1. David Perron fed Fabbri, and Fabbri outwaited McElhinney before tucking a backhand into the net for a 2-0 lead.
“That’s kind of how the games goes sometimes,” Johnson said. “You get some bounces or a save or whatever it is against and then we go down and score. Sometimes that happens to us where the goalie makes a big save and they come down and score. Taking advantage of those opportunities and that momentum, we did that tonight.”
The goal was Fabbri’s first since Dec. 28, 2016 when he recorded his only NHL hat trick against the Philadelphia Flyers, and he remembered when asked.
“I think it was against Philly in 2016, a long time ago,” Fabbri said with a grin. “I forgot how it felt. But it definitely felt good.
“I was just kind of reading off the play, reading off the pressure on my back, going to my backhand there, that was a great pass from Perry there under the stick. … That play started with Robby there, he made a nice pass to the middle, sucking a couple of guys in, that’s what he does well, he reads the ice well and he finds the open guy in.”
The teams traded power-play goals inside a minute left in the first when Jaccob Slavin cut the lead to 2-1 when his shot from the top of the left circle beat a screened Johnson, but O’Reilly’s power-play goal at 19:55 made it 3-1 when Tarasenko was able to throw a backhand behind the net to Tyler Bozak. Bozak, who had a two-assist game to give him six points (two goals, four assists) the past five games, fed O’Reilly in the left circle before O’Reily roofed a shot short side.
“That was good,” O’Reilly said. “That’s the results that you want to have. If something bad happens, you want to respond well, get momentum or put something in the net. It’s always good when you do that.”
The Blues’ streak with six straight games with a power-play goal is their longest since an eight-game run from Jan. 31-Feb. 13, 2013.
“Yeah, it obviously came at a big time,” O’Reilly said. “I don’t think it was our best game. I don’t think we had the consistency that we wanted tonight, but that second period, Johnny came up big … that second period he made some huge saves for us. I thought we had a good talk in here, coming out and wanting to play hockey in the third period, get back to our game and we did. It was a good response by us to play hockey again and start winning some battles and give ourselves a chance to win.”
Carolina outshot the Blues 13-3 in the middle 20 minutes.
“Early in the game we gave up a few point-blankers and he was right there,” Yeo said of Johnson. “I think that giving him this game and kind of targeting it allowed him to really get dialed in this week in practice. For me I saw a big boost in his practice, the quality of his practice. He was outstanding tonight.
“This is a [Carolina] team, and I knew it like watching these games, pre-scouting them whether it’s San Jose, whether it’s Vegas. They had lost a couple of these games and they generate a number of opportunities. They’ve got speed. They create turnovers. They created opportunities. And obviously we saw that tonight. We knew that we were gonna need goaltending to win this hockey game, and [Johnson] gave it to us.”
The Blues’ penalty kill was solid also, going 4-for-5 and got an important kill in the third with a 3-1 lead. From there, when Carolina pulled McElhinney with 3:21 remaining, O’Reilly finished them off with a three-quarters length of an empty-net goal.
“I think that’s just handling the puck … any time you work on puckhandling skills it seems to work out in the game,” O’Reilly said. “It was just a nice play by ‘Steener’ [Alexander Steen] to throw it over to me and I’m just trying to throw it down and get it in.”
The Blues are 3-2-0 on the season-long seven-game homestand and Johnson got his first win since March 31, 2018 with the Buffalo Sabres at Nashville.
“It’s just nice to get the first one out of the way,” Johnson said. “It was big for our team. I just wanted to come in and be solid with my game, try and get the two points and it worked out for us.”