DENVER –A dormant Colorado Avalanche offense finally came to life Sunday night, and it couldn't have happened at a better time.
Staggering down the stretch with a four-game losing streak and with just one win in their previous eight contests, the Avalanche rediscovered their attack at the Pepsi Center and pulled out a much-needed 5-4 overtime victory over the San Jose Sharks.
"It's the biggest win of the year," coach Joe Sacco said after defenseman John-Michael Liles redirected Ryan Wilson's shot into the net with 2:01 to play in the extra period. "And then the next game will be the biggest for us."
The Avalanche, who hadn't scored more than three goals in regulation during their 1-6-1 skid, strengthened their hold on the eighth and final playoff position in the Western Conference.
Colorado leads ninth-place Calgary, which lost in Chicago earlier in the day, by two points (91-89). The Avalanche also has two more wins (42-40) and have four games remaining, to the Flames' three.
"All along we said we controlled our own destiny," Liles said. "That's the biggest thing. We have to keep winning hockey games, and that's what we can control. If we continue to win hockey games, then we're going to put ourselves in good position."
The Sharks picked up a point and lead Chicago by two points (107-105) in the race to finish first in the West. San Jose has three games left and the Blackhawks have four.
Despite the loss, the Sharks were happy to welcome center Joe Thornton back to the lineup. Thornton had two assists and won 10 of 16 faceoffs after missing three games with a lower body injury.
"He's the best passer in the League," teammate Ryane Clowe said. "His faceoffs are also strong, so there's a lot of elements that he brings. It's a big factor for the other team trying to shut him down."
The Avalanche rallied from an early 2-0 deficit to build a 4-2 lead but watched the Sharks tie the game on a Joe Pavelski goal with 5:19 to play in the third period before Liles came through with the winner.
"They're a tough team," Liles said. "Even when we got up by two, the lead is not safe."
Liles, who had gone 10 games without a goal and was a healthy scratch three times last month, skated through the slot and was in the right faceoff circle when he deflected Wilson's long shot behind goalie Evgeni Nabokov.
The goal came 59 seconds after the Avalanche failed to connect on a 4-on-3 power play with Clowe serving a holding-the-stick penalty.
"Wilson kind of saw me cutting through the slot," Liles said. "(It's) not a position I'm in very often, cutting in front and looking for a tip. I just tried to get it on net and it worked out."
The Avalanche played the overtime without left wing Peter Mueller, who needed help getting off the ice with 2:42 remaining in the third period after he absorbed what appeared to be a clean hit by Sharks defenseman Rob Blake.
The Avalanche said it would know more about the nature of the injury Monday.
Mueller scored two goals in the second period when the Avalanche took a 3-2 lead and Paul Stastny, with his second goal in nine games, put a back-handed shot from in tight inside the left post 20 seconds into the third period on a power play for a two-goal advantage.
Heatley set up the Sharks' third and fourth goals, passing to a wide-open Patrick Marleau in the slot at 8:13 and putting a shot on goalie Craig Anderson, who made the save but left a juicy rebound for Pavelski.
"We could have won that game 4-2," Anderson said. "I have to be better and give the team a chance. But it was good to see the guys battle hard and battle through some adversity. We really haven't had that much adversity except for this last month. We have to find a way to get out of it, and this is a good steppingstone."
The Avalanche have been making a habit of falling behind and did it again in the first period, giving up early goals to Douglas Murray and Jamie McGinn on consecutive shots 56 seconds apart.
Murray scored from the left point at 8:01 with his first goal in 35 games on the Sharks' fourth shot and McGinn beat Anderson to the glove side at 8:57 with a shot from the left circle on a 2-on-1 rush.
Sacco used his timeout at that point "just to settle things down," he said. "We had lots of time left and if we played our game, I thought we'd be OK."
The Avalanche made it 2-1 at 13:41 with Kyle Quincey's first goal in 20 games, six seconds after killing off Quincey's penalty for tripping.
Ryan O'Reilly blocked Marc-Edouard Vlasic's shot and passed to Quincey exiting the penalty box. Quincey broke in alone on Nabokov and whipped the puck by his right pad.
"You kind of dream about breakaways like that," Quincey said. "It was a great goal and good timing, too. We needed a little boost."