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Centre Ryan O'Reilly, a heart and soul player on the St. Louis Blues, considered his team fortunate to be leading its NHL first-round playoff series with the Winnipeg Jets after Wednesday's Game 1.

"Yeah, that was a huge first win for us, especially for them outplaying us and hanging in the third and (goaltender Jordan Binnington) playing the way he did, we took that one, maybe even stole that one," said O'Reilly Thursday after helping St. Louis turn a 1-0 third-period deficit into a 2-1 victory less than 24 hours earlier.

Winnipeg Jets' Ben Chiarot taking out St Louis Blues Captain Alex Pietrangelo in the first period, during a close-checking physical affair Wednesday in Winnipeg. Both teams expect more of the same when they meet again Friday in Game 2 of their series.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets' Ben Chiarot taking out St Louis Blues Captain Alex Pietrangelo in the first period, during a close-checking physical affair Wednesday in Winnipeg. Both teams expect more of the same when they meet again Friday in Game 2 of their series.

"For us, (it was) a good response, and we can do that. That game is behind us. We have to find a new way and we’re going to need to play a lot better to win this (next) game. But we’re just taking it one at a time."

Reilly, who was acquired from the Buffalo Sabres for a package of three players and a second-round draft pick during the off-season, has had a transformative effect on the Blues, who were sitting last overall in the NHL on Jan. 2.

On Wednesday, the visitors withstood an early onslaught from the Jets and returned to a familiar form in the third period.

"For a lot of us, we haven't been in the playoffs in a bit and a lot of young faces haven't played," said O'Reilly. "Sometimes them coming out with the jump, it takes a little while to find that. At the end of the day, it's another hockey game. We have to stick to our identity and do what we do well, and that is playing below the goal-line and possessing the puck. Once we did that, we generated momentum and it kind of rolled from there. Obviously scored some big goals from that."

Game 2 is set for Friday night at Bell MTS Place.

Interim head coach Craig Berube wasn't willing to admit the Blues stole anything in Game 1.

"I thought it was an even game, to be honest with you," said Berube. "Good chances both ways. Goalies played well. Hard, physical game. It's tight. There's not a lot of room out there. Both teams checked well. Fortunately, we got two goals. That's how I look at it."

St. Louis captain Alex Pietrangelo was proud of how his most inexperienced teammates handled the playoff pressure.

"I'm sure they were nervous going in," he said. "Nerves are OK, it means you care. I think those jitters and all that were more for earlier in the year. If you watched the way those guys played as the season went on, I don't think any of us were too worried about them going into this game, so they're only going to get better going in here further."

The Blues also benefited from the exceptional play of rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington, which has been a common theme since he was recalled from San Antonio of the AHL.

"We gave up some chances and Binner came up solid for us, especially there at the end," said Blues forward Alex Steen. "(Jets centre Mark) Scheifele had a good shot (with 12.4 seconds left in regulation time), and Binner was massive. But we had some very good looks throughout the game as well, and as expected, it was back and forth. High pace, high intensity. It was a good one."

To a man, the Blues expect the pushback from Winnipeg to be considerable.

"We can be better. We have to be better," said Berube. "Because they are going to be better. That's the way you have to look at the next game. They are going to come out harder. They are going to be better. We have to ramp our game up. We have to be better, too."

NINETIES FLASHBACK: Steen, a local product, was on the visitors' side of a Winnipeg Whiteout in Game 1 but he relished the atmosphere all the same.

"Yeah, it was obviously special, it was exciting, said Steen, whose father Thomas is one of the all-time greats in Jets' 1-0 history. "(It's been) probably '95, '94 since I seen a Whiteout. That was pretty special for a kid that grew up watching them."

GRIEVING FOR HIS GRANDFATHER: veteran Blues forward Pat Maroon played in Game 1 less than 24 hours after receiving the news of the death of his 95-year-old grandfather.

Maroon's contribution was crucial; he set up Tyler Bozak for the game-winner with 2:05 remaining in the third.

"It was tough," said Berube. "A bit of a blow to him for sure. And to all of us. But he played well. It's not easy to do. He wanted to come. He wanted to be in there."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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