DENVER – Overtime has become winning time for the Colorado Avalanche, who used the extra period Wednesday night to cap a 4-3, come-from-behind victory against the Florida Panthers at the Pepsi Center.
Ryan O'Reilly scored with 1:05 remaining with a shot from the right circle that skimmed between goalie Jose Theodore's pads after the Avalanche connected for two third-period goals to erase a 3-1 deficit.
Peter Mueller, playing his first home game since the season opener, scored his first two goals since April 4, 2010, against San Jose and added an assist on Paul Stastny's tying goal with 3:17 left in regulation.
"It was a good homecoming. I can't tell you how much this means to me. I'm speechless right now," said Mueller, who missed all last season and 41 of the first 44 games this season to recover from concussion symptoms.
The three points tied a career high.
"“It was so important to get those two points (for the win) and it was just icing on the cake to get those two goals," Mueller added. "I wouldn't change it for the world right now."
The victory was the Avalanche's sixth in eight overtime decisions this season and moved them into eighth place in the Western Conference with 52 points -- one more than Minnesota, which has played one fewer game.
The loss extended the Panthers' road winless streak to seven games (0-3-4) and dropped them from first in the Southeast Division to second and from third in the Eastern Conference to eighth behind Washington. Both teams have 52 points, but the Capitals have the edge in wins.
Things didn't look good for the Avalanche when Tomas Kopecky gave the Panthers a 3-1 lead at the 20-second mark of the third period. He scored into a wide-open net after Mikael Samuelsson fired a shot that hit Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson. The puck bounced across the ice to Kopecky for a shot that goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere had no chance to stop.
The Avalanche pulled within 3-2 on a power-play goal by Mueller. The Avalanche were mired in a 4-for-42 slump with the man advantage when O'Reilly fed Mueller in the left circle for a one-timer that beat Theodore (40 saves) through the 5-hole. Theodore missed the previous five games with a knee injury.
Stastny, who had one goal in the previous 12 games, tied the game when he skated down right wing and banged in his own rebound. But he was happier for Mueller than for himself.
"It is huge for him," he said. "He has been through a rough go for the last two years. The biggest thing that I see is his spirits and personality. When he is outgoing and talking, that is when you know he is feeling his best."
Avalanche goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere kept the Avalanche within a goal before Stastny scored when he stopped Tomas Fleischmann skating in alone after defenseman Ryan Wilson lost the puck in the Colorado end. Shortly after, the Avalanche killed off Jay McClement's double minor for high sticking.
"I really liked our resiliency at the end. We showed a lot of character," Avalanche coach Joe Sacco said. "We had a little talk after the second period, and I had a good feeling. I thought there was an opportunity there and we didn't want to let this one slip by. Our guys responded really well and it's good to see a guy like Peter Mueller getting back in there and playing with the type of energy that he did."
Giguere finished with 26 saves, which included a couple of big stops in overtime following Avalanche turnovers. He's gone 7-2-1 in his past 10 decisions and picked up his 11th win of the season, matching last season's total with Toronto.
"We had timely saves down the stretch and in overtime to give us a chance to hang around and to win in overtime," Sacco said.
Stephen Weiss, who had gone 15 games without a goal, put the Panthers in front 2-1 with 1:12 remaining in the second period after he used a burst of speed to skate by Avalanche defensemen Kyle Quincy and Ryan O'Byrne. Weiss had a step on O'Byrne, who tripped him to the ice for a delayed penalty.
Weiss managed to get off a shot on goal, which Giguere stopped, but Weiss slid along the ice and his momentum knocked the puck across the goal line. The goal was allowed to stand following a lengthy review, prompting boos from the crowd.
Mueller tied the game for the Avalanche 1-1 at 6:50 of the second period when he converted the rebound of Erik Johnson's shot by skating into the right circle and firing the puck between Theodore's pads.
"I thought everything stopped," said Mueller, who played in the season's first three games and didn't return to the lineup until last Thursday in Nashville. "I looked around and I couldn't believe it happened. You hear that old saying, 'Once you get one, more are going to start coming.' Every game is a process and I'm getting better and better every game."
Mueller nearly put the Avalanche ahead at 15:26 of the second period when he fired a shot from above the right circle that hit the crossbar and bounced away.
The Panthers took a 1-0 lead at 14:51 of the first period on a goal by Marcel Goc on a power play. The Panthers had gone 2-for-20 on power plays in their previous seven games, while the Avalanche had killed 29 of 33 penalties in a nine-game stretch.
"It is frustrating," Panthers defenseman Brian Campbell said of the loss. "Giving up a couple of goals in the third … we have to find a way to win that in overtime. We had our chances. It would have been nice to get something going there."