Production/temperament of Blues’ Ryan O’Reilly, Avalanche’s Nazem Kadri among series keys

A year ago, and with relative ease, the Avalanche swept the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly, the popular former Avs center, was pointless in Games 1 and 2 and finished with just three assists in four games. His lack of production was one of the main reasons St. Louis couldn’t get past Colorado, much less win one game.

O’Reilly, however, is now the primary reason the Avs could go down against the Blues in their upcoming second-round series. The 2019 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as MVP of the playoffs is all about resiliency and succeeding on the second try.

And as the respected captain of a proud franchise, he has the Blues rolling into Game 1 at Ball Arena.

“Last year we played well against them in the playoffs. This year, they got a bunch of guys rolling, not just O’Reilly,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said.

“We have to contain a lot more guys than just O’Reilly.”

That’s true. O’Reilly is among three Blues to produce five goals in the first-round series against Minnesota — just the 11th time in NHL history three teammates did so much damage in a series. But O’Reilly is really rolling, scoring four of his goals on the power play — in pressure situations.

“He’s talented, obviously. He’s really strong on the puck,” Avs defenseman Josh Manson said. “You got to be smart when you’re around him, around the net. He’s got great finish. Strong on pucks. You got to bear down on him that extra bit. Otherwise, it’s off your stick in a hurry and he’s going the other direction and making a play.

“So he’s a dangerous player.”

Nazem Kadri is another dangerous player in the series. But unlike the always cool-headed O’Reilly, the Avs second-line center has a history of losing his composure in the playoffs.

Kadri’s eight-game suspension for a check to the head of Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 last year contributed to Colorado’s second-round demise against Vegas.

St. Louis has vowed to never forget the hit that forced Faulk out of the playoffs with a concussion. Blues forward Brayden Schenn fought Kadri 40 seconds into the teams’ first regular-season meeting on Oct. 16 in Denver, and then Faulk fought Kadri 47 seconds into the second game on Oct. 28 in St. Louis.

Kadri knows what’s coming in this series. If it’s not a full-fledged fight against the Blues, the face-washing and chirping will be nonstop. St. Louis will try to goad Kadri into doing something that puts his availability at risk.

You could see it settle in with Kadri in the first round against Nashville. He wasn’t great — potentially because he was afraid to play on the edge. Bednar has repeatedly said Kadri had a career regular-season because he placed physicality above skill.

If Kadri isn’t fierce and borderline nasty, he’s not nearly as effective in making plays.

Two players from two 20-man rosters can’t single-handily determine the outcome of a seven-game hockey series. But I’m betting O’Reilly and Kadri could become the most important forwards for both teams.

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