DENVER -- No Colorado Avalanche player takes losses harder than Ryan O'Reilly, who following defeats frequently vents his frustration by running up and down the Pepsi Center steps.
O'Reilly, who turned 21 on Tuesday, might have felt tempted to run all the way to St. Louis for Saturday's game against the Blues if the Avalanche hadn't pulled out Friday night's 4-3 wild overtime win against the Carolina Hurricanes.
Angry after failing to connect on several quality scoring chances – including a shorthanded breakaway -- in the third period of a 3-3 game, O'Reilly slammed the bench door in disgust after leaving the ice.
The third-year center remained frustrated but much happier after delivering the winning goal with 1.2 seconds to play in the extra period. O'Reilly poked the puck away from defenseman Justin Faulk at center ice, streaked into the Hurricanes end and ripped the puck from above the left circle past goalie Cam Ward's outstretched right pad.
"It was a lucky break for me," O'Reilly said after collecting his team-leading 15th goal and second in overtime this season. "I don't think I deserved to score tonight. My hands weren't there, but that's the way it goes sometimes.
"I saw that there were 10 seconds on the clock and the guy (Faulk) came at me. I just tried to get a good stick on it and lucky for me I poked it ahead. I saw we had four seconds on the clock and I'm not the quickest skater so I knew it had to be a slap shot at the net. (Ward) came out to challenge and I just got him with a low blocker shot."
O'Reilly wanted to kick himself after accepting a pass from Gabriel Landeskog while all alone in front, only to chip the puck off the right post with 9:16 to play in regulation. Three minutes later, while the Avalanche was killing off a hooking penalty to David Jones, Ward stopped O'Reilly on a clean breakaway and on another shot from the slot seconds later.
"I'm going to have to work on my stickhandling," O'Reilly said. "Landy gave me that backdoor pass and I pulled across and I hit the post. I definitely have to get my hands going a bit more."
Said Avalanche coach Joe Sacco: "It's good to see him get rewarded for all his hard work because he certainly played a heck of a game tonight and he has been playing very well. He seems to save them for the right time, that's for sure. It's a real big two points for our hockey club."
The Avalanche, which erased three one-goal deficits, completed a four-game homestand with a 2-1-1 record and pulled within one point of eighth-place Phoenix for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
"We're happy that he got that big goal," goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who faced 42 shots, said of O'Reilly. "There's nobody that deserves it more than him. Nobody works harder than him on this team. Good things happen to guys that work hard, and that's a prime example right there."
The game was more wide-open than either coach would have preferred – the Hurricanes owned a 33-21 advantage in shots after two periods – but the Avalanche tightened up a bit in the third period.
"For both sides the game got into a little bit of an up-and-down kind of a track meet type of game," Sacco said. "It may be entertaining for the fans, but it's not that entertaining for a coach. We were pretty good in the third period. We started playing the way we are capable of playing. We're trying to get points now, anyway we can get them."
It was a tough loss for the Hurricanes, who are last in the Eastern Conference but have gone 4-1-4 in their past nine games and 12-8-7 after losing their first four games under coach Kirk Muller, who replaced Paul Maurice on Nov. 28.
"It was a tight game," said Carolina captain Eric Staal, whose goal at 15:31 of the second period gave his team a 3-2 lead. "I thought our legs were good. We were aggressive, we were playing how we want to play. Obviously, when you get ahead by one, you want to try and stay with that lead. But give them credit; they battled back."
The Avalanche tied the game 3-3 with 59.1 seconds remaining in the second period on a goal by Paul Stastny. David Jones passed in front to Stastny, who stepped around Ward and swept the puck into the net for his first goal in eight games.
The Jones-Stastny-Milan Hejduk line combined on a pretty passing play that resulted in Hejduk's goal at 3:15. Stastny fed Hejduk, who went to the net and redirected the puck in for his first goal in six games.
"We're all working hard and we have confidence moving the puck," said Stastny, whose line combined for two goals and three assists after collecting two goals and four assists in Tuesday's 5-2 win against Chicago. "We give up chances at times, but we also create chances."
The Hurricanes opened the scoring at 7:22 of the first period on Tim Brent's goal. Landeskog tied the game for the Avalanche with 53.1 seconds to play in the period, but Jiri Tlusty put the Hurricanes ahead 30 seconds later, an early omen that this would be a wild affair.
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